Twitter trolls could face jail sentence

Gareth Fairhurst (left) and George Fairhurst
Gareth Fairhurst (left) and George Fairhurst

TWITTER trolls who have targeted a Wigan councillor’s family with offensive remarks could be hit with a custodial sentence if convicted.

Police officers have been called in to investigate two parody accounts set up in the name of Standish Independents leader Coun Gareth Fairhurst.

Both accounts were taken down by the social media giant on Monday but one has now reappeared under a different name.

Set up on Thursday, the accounts posted defamatory, deeply offensive and false material prompting the councillor to contact Greater Manchester Police.

A spokesman for GMP today said the investigation is ongoing with officers treating the case as a potential breach of the Malicious Communications Act, an offence which can carry a custodial sentence.

Speaking on his blog, Coun Fairhurst said: “I would like to thank everyone that has rung, spoken with me in the street and e-mailed me with their kind words of support, I do appreciate them.”

On his swift response in contacting the authorities, he added: “I make no apology of moving on this in the way I have - hard and fast.

“While some spoof Twitter accounts can be funny and harmless, the vile, evil and defamatory ones like these accounts are not.

“These account details are now in the hands of the Police, who are now investigating these vile and criminal statements about myself.

“I have complete faith at the moment in the Police finding these people through the various methods and they are taking this very seriously indeed.”

Coun Fairhurst became embroiled in a number of social media disputes in the lead up to this year’s elections which have continued in the weeks since voting day.

His father, Coun George Fairhurst, retained his seat in a close contest this year meaning the ward remains under the control of the Fairhurst family with Gareth’s wife Debbie completing the ward representatives. The Malicious Communications offence covers incidents where material which is “indecent or grossly offensive” is posted with an intent “to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient”.

It has been expanded in recent years to include all electronic communications, including social media and internet posts.

The offence can carry a prison term of up to six months or a fine or in some circumstances, both.