No jail for man who sent racist tweet to star

Tal Ben Haim
Tal Ben Haim
Christian Burgess. Picture: Joe Pepler

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A MAN who directed racist abuse at ex-Pompey player Tal Ben Haim on Twitter has been ordered to do community service.

Matthew Smith pleaded guilty to sending an abusive message when he appeared at Andover Magistrates’ Court.

The 33-year-old sent the tweet directed at the 30-year-old former Pompey defender who left the club in August.

He was charged under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 by Hampshire police following a probe into the message, which was posted on the website on August 6.

Following the case, a Hampshire Constabulary spokesman said: ‘Abusive, threatening or intimidating language is as unacceptable online as it is on the streets or elsewhere in public.

‘Where criminal offences are committed we will investigate, pursue the offender and bring them to justice.

‘Hiding behind a computer or a smartphone is no protection or excuse for such behaviour.’

Smith, of Berry Way, Andover, faced up to six months in jail and a fine if he had been convicted following a trial.

But he pleaded guilty to the offence at his first appearance in court.

The magistrates gave him a community order and told him to carry out 40 hours of unpaid work in the next year.

He must also pay £85 in court costs.

A spokesman for Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Wessex said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.

He said: ‘It is now established that posting comments via Twitter constitutes sending a message by means of a public electronic communications network.

‘It is also clear that the offence is committed once the message is sent, irrespective of whether it is received by any intended recipient or anyone else.

‘This case is one of a growing number involving the use of social media that the CPS has had to consider.

‘There are likely to be many more. The recent increase in the use of social media has been profound.

‘If the fundamental right to free speech is to be respected, the threshold for criminal prosecution has to be a high one and a prosecution has to be required in the public interest.

‘Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors but also by others including the police, the courts and service providers.’

Portsmouth Football Club supported the investigation.

by GARETH BETHELL

Court reporter

gareth.bethell@thenews.co.uk