A Guernsey judge has lamented the “rise of the keyboard warrior” after a number of violent threats, including calls for a “public stoning”, were made against four individuals alleged to have vandalised a Liberation Day wreath.
The group of men and women charged with the vandalism appeared in the island’s Magistrate’s Court yesterday.
When they first appeared in the Magistrate's Court earlier this month, reporting restrictions were imposed on their names and addresses over concerns for their safety.
Bailiwick Law Enforcement said there had been a "sheer onslaught" of people calling for public retribution after they posted about the case on Facebook, which the organisation's communications officer said was on a scale "I simply have not seen before."
Some of the comments that led to the imposition of reporting restrictions were read out in court for the first time yesterday.
The Court heard that there had been "suggestions of a public stoning" in the comment section of Bailiwick Law Enforcement's Facebook post.
There were also "multiple suggestions of bringing back the birch", while someone who identified as an ex-serviceman said he would "dearly like to meet and discuss things with them" - a comment that police said had "sinister" undertones.
Others were more explicit - one said the accused should get "made an example of [and receive] a proper beating", while another commenter said the perpetrators "deserve a taser to the face."
Pictured: Judge McKerrell said that when social media is used wisely it can be a force for good; however, when misused, it has many negative effects.
The quartet's defence advocates called for the original reporting restrictions to be maintained.
Judge Graeme McKerrell said the reporting restrictions were "an unusual step to take", but noted that the evolution of social media has changed the nature of the conversation.
"As the world evolves, things change for better or for worse. One thing that has changed for sure is the availability of social media, which when used wisely can bring positive benefits. On the other hand, it can also bring many negative factors into being and one obvious example is the rise of the keyboard warrior."
Judge McKerrell noted the "irony" that the actions of people calling for the defendants' names to be reported had "spurred on" the application of reporting restrictions.
"I have seen a selection of the comments and some suggest that physical harm be administered as a form of vigilante justice."
He concluded by saying that the public nerve that had been touched by the issue. However, as time progresses, and the trial reaches a conclusion, he is hopeful that nerve "will become less and less tender", at which point the defendants, if they are found guilty, can be identified.
On that basis, he renewed the reporting restrictions.
Pictured: Replacement wreaths were laid by the Bailiff Richard McMahon and many members of the public after the first wreath was damaged.
The initial creation of those restrictions was a decision that drew lengthy consideration by his colleague Judge Gary Perry earlier this month.
At that point, Judge Perry did not have access to the social media comments that have since been presented to Judge McKerrell.
"At this stage, as I don't have enough information to make any form of permanent decision, I am satisfied there is at least a risk of prejudice to the administration of justice certainly in respect of [publishing the defendants'] addresses," said Judge Perry earlier this month. "I'm not yet convinced in respect of names, but I'm not going to make a decision on that until I have the full picture."
The defendants are due to attend a pre-trial review next month.
Pictured top: Guernsey's Court and the damaged wreath (inset).
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