In a Facebook post on May 8, officers from West Yorkshire Police’s Wakefield Rural division boasted about a “small quantity” of cannabis officers had seized from a “young man parked up alone” in Walton Colliery nature park. The text was accompanied by a photo of the haul, not much bigger than a 20 pence piece.
The post quickly went viral, with users from across the country flocking the page to ridicule the meagre taking — comments such as, “wow that’s put a dent in the war on drugs lol,” and “what clowns, hope you nail Pablo Escobar this afternoon” were commonplace.
Such barbs were not well received by the force, and after two days the jibe onslaught was terminated evermore by the deletion of the post — Police Inspector Martin Moizer also took to the page to condemn the detractors, and make clear there would be consequences for repeat offenders.
“Unfortunately we have had to ban a number of people from using this page today. I would like to remind everyone this is a Police page and whatever your thoughts on one of my officers seizing drugs in the community, being insulting, abusive or offensive can and will result in a prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act 1988,” he wrote.
However, Moizer’s warning seemingly went unheeded, with his ominous declaration attracting further ridicule.
It’s not the first time the force has been mocked for its social media activity — in April officers seized two crates of Strongbow from underage youths, and posted accordingly. Users were gobsmacked effort and resources had been invested in confiscating alcohol, rather than catching drug dealers or knife-wielding criminals.
Facebookers outraged at the suggestion their comments could land them in hot water with British law enforcement may be similarly be shocked to learn how common arrests for social media posts have become in the UK.
In London alone, between 2010 — 2015 2,500 residents of the capital were arrested for allegedly sending “offensive” messages via social media platforms — in 2015 alone, 857 were detained, a 37 percent increase since 2010.
Even obviously ironic posts can lead to prosecution. In May 2010, Paul Chambers was convicted for tweeting “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”, after cold weather led to the cancellation of many flights out of the UK.
An airport manager saw the tweet some time after it was posted, but despite judging the threat “not credible” reported Chambers to the police anyway. He was subsequently arrested by anti-terror police at his office, his house was searched and his mobile phone, laptop and desktop hard drive were confiscated.
He was duly charged and convicted of “sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character contrary to the Communications Act 2003”. Chambers was fined £385 and ordered to pay £600 costs., and lost his job as a consequence.
Luckily for Chambers, his case became a cause celebre, with many high profile media figures — such as Stephen Fry — supporting him. After appealing twice against the conviction, it was finally quashed July 27 2012, on the basis his tweet “did not constitute or include a message of a menacing character”.
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