Libelling the dead – and the living

A man has been gaoled for posting abusive messages about a dead girl on Facebook and YouTube. Distasteful though his actions may have been, there are far more serious menaces out there the authorities ignore.

Sean Duffy suffers from Asperger syndrome, a form of autism that can cause serious social problems for its sufferers. That is the only thing that can be said in his defence, because yesterday he was sentenced to 18 weeks’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to “two counts of sending a communication of an indecent or offensive nature.”

If you are an American citizen and are reading this, you should be advised that there is no such thing in Britain as free speech. Sundry pressure groups and campaigners from the misnamed “anti-racist” lobby and loony “feminists” to moral crusaders personified by Mrs Mary Whitehouse (1910-2001) and their allies in Parliament have seen to that. The resulting legislation has been drafted extremely widely yet is still open to abuse; for example, in 1998, a man was charged with harassment after smiling at a woman on a train three times on three different days. If he had not been a senior Law Society official he would almost certainly have been convicted. It remains to be seen why the “victim” had to sit in the same carriage three days in a row if she found his behaviour so distressing.

The law has become even more oppressive since then, for example it is now a criminal offence in Britain to “glorify terrorism” which means what, exactly? Read the legislation, and see if you can work it out.

These oppressive laws can be and are applied arbitrarily at the whim of the police and the imbecile government lawyers of the Clown Prosecution Service.

Returning to Sean Duffy, his guilty plea related to messages he had posted on tribute pages set up by the family of 15 year old Natasha MacBryde who committed suicide by throwing herself under a train. She appears to have been driven to her death by bullying; Sean Duffy cannot be blamed for this, his “cyber bullying” began only after he read about her tragic case.

The consensus seems to be that Duffy has got his just desserts; certainly what he did was distasteful and distressing in the extreme, and a dozen other adjectives, but using the same criteria, there are many more people out there who could be gaoled for far more serious offences against decency.

In Britain, it is not possible to libel the dead; if Duffy had written a pamphlet or a full length book about Natasha MacBryde or anyone else who has departed this Earth, he could in theory have published the most vile slanders imaginable about his chosen victim, and provided he did not mention any identifiable living person, no action could have been taken against him. Libelling the living though is a different matter entirely. In English law there is also the offence of criminal libel. Although this is used only extremely rarely, it carries a potential gaol sentence. To brand a man a paedophile might be construed as criminal libel; in August 2005, an Australian tourist was murdered in his London hotel room, apparently because he bore a striking facial resemblance to a convicted paedophile.

Likewise, to brand a man a murderer might also be construed as criminal libel. In 1976, the British Nazi leader Colin Jordan brought an action for criminal libel against Maurice Ludmer, the Editor of Searchlight magazine. Later, the publisher of that magazine, Gerry Gable, repeated and exaggerated this allegation against Mr Jordan, accusing him of committing a murder that never happened. By this time, Colin Jordan was both very old and not in the best of health; had he lived, Mr Gable might have found himself in serious trouble. If accusing a self-confessed Nazi of murder is potentially actionable, how much more serious must it be to accuse the President of the United States of mass murder?

Some of the more extreme elements of both the 9/11 Truth Movement and other people with wild imaginations and little common sense have accused President Bill Clinton of ordering the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; President George W. Bush of ordering 9/11; and even the current incumbent of the White House of ordering the murders of innocent people albeit, not on such an enormous scale.

It is not inconceivable that some impressionable, impulsive, or just plain gullible individual could decide that one of these major criminals should pay for his crimes with his life, but Presidents, even former Presidents, are notoriously well protected, so maybe a member of his family should be punished instead, or friends of his, or perhaps even members of his party, his church, his bridge club?

Are the “malicious communications” of Sean Duffy any worse than the at times vile criminal libels of some of the 9/11 Truthers? The British police and their chums in the Clown Prosecution Service like easy targets – such as the woman charged with putting a golliwog in her window – that being the case, some of the British end of 9/11 Truth should expect the early morning knock on the door very soon. Especially if their local plod read this article!

[The above op-ed was first published September 14, 2011 (not September 13 as indicated on the archived version.]

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