Isabella Sorley, 23, and John Nimmo, 25, have both been handed a prison sentence after sending tweets to journalist and equality campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez in July last year. They pleaded guilty to sending by means of a public electronic communications network messages which were menacing in character, contrary to Section 127(1) (A) of the Communications Act 2003.
Sorley, who had been remanded in custody since the pleading on 7 January, was sentenced to 12 weeks imprisonment and Nimmo was given an 8 week sentence. The tweets were sent in response to Ms Criado-Perez’s successful campaign for author Jane Austen to appear on the new £10 note.
At the time, Ms Criado-Perez hailed the announcement as “brilliant day for women”. This led to her receiving an “avalanche” of abuse, including threats of rape, and up to 50 abusive tweets an hour for about 12 hours. She declared at the time that she had “stumbled into a nest of men who co-ordinate attacks on women”.
When Labour MP Stella Creasy came to the defence of Ms Criado-Perez she suffered a similar tirade of online abuse. Both women filed complaints with the Metropolitan Police but in December it was confirmed by the Crown Prosecution Service that no further action would be taken in relation to a separate suspect who sent offensive messages to Ms Creasy as it was not in the public interest. A spokesman said, “it would not be in the public interest to prosecute, having applied the director’s guidelines and having particular regard to the young age and personal circumstances of the suspect.”
The abuse suffered by both women led to an online petition for social media sites to adopt a zero tolerance policy on abuse and to Twitter rolling out a ‘report abuse’ button across all variations of the social media platform, suggesting that there would be an element of internal monitoring and self-policing for the first time.
This will be one of the first high profile cases since the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, published guidelines to be used when considering prosecutions relating to abuse on social media. He said that there should be a “high threshold for prosecution in cases involving communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false”.