I suppose we should not be surprised that the Tweet-police (formerly the British police) have now extended their remit to become the Facebook Police.
Today, getting caught for an actual crime is very rare in Britain. As anybody who has ever been robbed will know, most thefts are not even investigated by the police. It is even rarer for criminals – on the few occasions they are caught – to get sent to prison. How strange then that a 19-year old has just been sent to prison for three months for posting unpleasant jokes on his Facebook page.
The unemployed man from Chorley, Lancashire admitted to posting offensive jokes relating to the missing schoolgirls April Jones and Madeleine McCann. After being criticised for his comments by, among others, his own mother, it should have stopped there. He even wrote a message saying:
‘Sorry to my friends and family that have been brought into all this. I’m not a bad guy just took a joke to far I’ve apologised for what has been said and there’s nothing more what I can do sop all this s*** really aint going to sort anything nothing more to say on the matter apart from sorry again.’
But that was not enough.
The Magistrates’ Court in Chorley heard that members of the public ‘upset’ about the Facebook comments called the police. A ‘vigilante mob’ soon descended onto the youth’s home. The police removed him from his home for his own safety and arrested him. Now, in sentencing the teenager – who said he had been drunk while writing the posts – to three months in prison, JP Dr Bill Hudson told him:
‘This was a disgusting and despicable crime which the bench find completely abhorrent.
‘There were words used and references made to the case in Wales and Madeline McCann who went missing in Portugal some years ago which were nothing less than shocking.
‘So much so no right thinking person in society should have communicated to them such distress.
‘The families of those children should not be subjected to any use of social media like this. We should all be aware of the sensitivity of other people and especially the family involved in such statements made on Twitter, Facebook and such like.
‘We felt there was no other sentence which would convey the abhorrence that many people have for this sort of crime.’
Apparently the public gallery erupted with cheers and clapping as the sentence was handed down. All of which seems very strange to me.
I have no idea if the families of Madeleine McCann or April Jones are on Facebook, or whether they specifically read the Facebook page of the Chorley poster. But I think it is unlikely. This ‘despicable’, ‘completely abhorrent’, ‘nothing less than shocking’ crime can therefore only be said to have caused ‘distress’ to members of the public who follow this particular 19-year old on Facebook.
But even aside from the lack of wisdom in sending someone to prison for telling jokes – however unpleasant – the messages our flailing society sends out seem to be getting increasingly deranged. Perhaps JP Dr Bill Hudson does not have a television. Every time I turn one on I find exactly the type of humour he finds so shocking. Try Jimmy Carr or Frankie Boyle. Almost to a man – only ever men – this nation’s comedians earn their followings by making the most tasteless and disgusting jokes they can get away with. Perhaps they should. Much of the best humour is about pushing peoples’ boundaries of taste. The most popular type of humour in Britain is currently based not on eliciting real laughter but rather a sort of shocked ‘I can’t believe he said that’ gasp. It is not everybody’s idea of comedy, but it is obviously the ideal for a lot of people, because they reward the comedians so lavishly that the comedians themselves often have to locate tax-avoidance schemes to keep themselves in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.
Russell Brand really made his name by leaving abusive messages on an old age pensioner’s answerphone, boasting in particular of how he had f**ked the man’s grand-daughter. The BBC had to let him go for a short while before letting him back on to make a film about drugs. A proud nation displayed this national treasure as a centrepiece of the London Olympics closing ceremony. I must admit that I feel sorry for the Chorley teen. He was already out of work. He was also drunk. He relayed the types of jokes that make other people millionaires. But not him. Instead a vengeful mob came to his house. His mother told him off. He was arrested. The vengeful mob then cheered as he was sent to prison. What a strange country this is.
Even stranger that this should happen in the same week that almost everybody in show-business has decided to reveal that a prominent entertainer was known to many of them to be a child-rapist. And what did all these powerful, rich and successful people do about that? Absolutely nothing. Perhaps the nation can lie in wait until some unemployed teen dares to make a joke about it all. Then we’ll show ’em.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.