McAlpine's lawyer has realised that Twitter won't play ball in providing private information in a Civil Libel case and so he is now planning to involve the police with the intention of bringing charges against the 10k under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and Communictions Act 2003. He is hoping that by doing this he will force Twitter to reveal the names and addresses of the many thousands they are looking to contact. Please note I have only looked at the 1988 Act thus far.
I'm sure our already overly stretched police force are very happy to hear that they will need to contact/visiting 10000 individuals as well as having to put together the paperwork to present to a US court. I'm also sure the US judge is going to be overjoyed at the thought of dealing with all those court orders to Twitter.
Earlier in the week a spokeswoman for Twitter in the U.K. pointed out the company’s statement on requests for personal information:
“U.S. law authorizes Twitter to respond to requests for user information from foreign law enforcement agencies that are issued via U.S. court either by way of a mutual legal assistance treaty or a letter rogatory. It is our policy to respond to such U.S. court ordered requests when properly served.”
Twitter does have history in terms of refusing to comply with such court orders though and last year refused to provide personal information on tweeters who were criminally organising riots throughout the UK
And let us not forget the icing on the cake here, Lord McAlpine is NOT a UK tax payer, he is non UK domiciled but legally he is allowed to use our judicial system!
So, in the unlikely event that Twitter does provide names and addresses, what defence do tweeters have against the charges? These are my thoughts.
What the Malicious Communications Act 1988 Act says
1 Offence of sending letters etc. with intent to cause distress or anxiety.
(1)Any person who sends to another person—
(a)a [F1letter, electronic communication or article of any description] which conveys—
(i)a message which is indecent or grossly offensive;
(ii)a threat; or
(iii)information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender;
(3)This Act does not extend to Scotland or, except for section 2, to Northern Ireland.
I fail to see how they can claim that anyone was tweeting or re-tweeting something that they knew or believed to be false? The information given out on Newsnight led many people to trawl on-line to identify the man not named in the programme. And who wouldn't want to know who he was, surely that is in the pubic interest? After all, Newsnight is aired the BBC, one of the worlds most reliable news agencies. Why on earth would they believe the allegations to be false if the BBC had gone to all that effort in investigating this man. Surely they would be sure of their facts, wouldn't they?
And after all Lord McAlpine said the following himself in his World At One Interview on 15/11/2012:
'Because strangely enough, all over the world, people believe the BBC to be one, or possibly the only, honest voice.'
So having watched the Newsnight programme people will have been naturally curious as to who they meant. It would not have taken much to put two and two together and come up with Lord McAlpine's name. Googling will have unearthed a great deal of web pages that as far as they were concerned corroborated what was being alleged which added weight to Newsnight's claims and in turn to their own belief that the allegation must be true. This belief will have further been reinforced by the fact that some of that information had been out there in the public domain unchallenged for nearly 20 years!
Some of the information which was publicly available and which could have added to the average persons belief that the allegations could be true could be found on Lord McAlpine's Wikipedia page. This alarming entry read as follows:
*In May 2003 the London Evening Standard reported that Lord McAlpine was the "well-known and anonymous collector" for whom Bloomsbury Book Auctions was selling a collection of 344 "fashion and eroticism" photographs, including "10 snaps of very young girls in very suggestive poses by Graham Ovenden"
(screenshot of original wiki available)
Within days this information disappeared for his Wikipedia page (screenshot of both before and after entries available)
From 2011 http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk/Famous-artist-court-child-sex-case/story-13236995-detail/story.html
'Further research on the collection and Mr Ovenden will have provided the following:
'An internationally-acclaimed Westcountry artist has appeared in court charged with child sex crimes and other offences.
Graham Ovenden, a painter and fine art photographer, yesterday appeared at Truro Crown Court with two security officers standing on either side of him.
The 68-year-old is charged with four counts of indecent assault on a girl under the age of 14, five counts of child neglect and four charges of false imprisonment.'
And in 2010 other charges against Ovenden had to be dropped after CPS failed to call vital police witnesses
'Mr Ovenden, 67, from Mount near Bodmin in North Cornwall, pleaded not guilty to 16 charges of making indecent images and one charge of possessing an indecent image of a child.'
'Graham Ovenden, an English photographer of children, was represented by a photo he took of Maud Hewes, age 10, in 1984. The photo here was presumably the one that was prosecuted in federal court in the United States in the early 1990s showing her seated nude with her legs open. The girl herself, now an adult, defended Ovenden in writing and that was part of the reason the government gave up trying to claim the photos were “lascivious”. The issue of spread-legged underage girls is the focus of a blog entry I wrote after this one.'
Confirmation that Lord McAlpine did previously own the collection of pics which contained the 10 snaps of very young girls etc
Put all this together with the other web pages containing direct allegations about Lord McAlpine on various sites which will have been found by googling and it is not hard to see that people will have had reasonable belief that there was something to Newsnight's allegations even if they had not named him. Some of these same sites which previously would have been discounted by the majority were the same ones which carried the allegations regarding Jimmy Savile and look how that turned out. So people could be forgiven for thinking that there may well have been something to these allegations about Lord McAlpine.
Also Lord McAlpine did not make a statement to the press denying the allegations until many days after the Newsnight programme and similarly Steve Messham did not withdraw his allegation (even though he never named him) until days after too. So given all of the above, I fail to see how Lord McAlpine's lawyer can claim people knowing tweeted or re-tweeted something that they knew to be false or believed to be false. Their belief that the allegations were probably true based on all of the above also means that what they tweeted should not be treated as being grossly offensive either in my opinion as they tweeted and re-tweeted in good faith based on enough suggestive information provided by a 'credible' news source which led them to their conclusions. And remember, the original seeds were after all put there by the BBC and Lord McAlpine's himself said 'all over the world, people believe the BBC to be one, or possibly the only, honest voice.'