Think before you tweet. Will Old Holborn ever learn? – Rhory Robertson and Tom Double

20 11 2013

Old HolbornTweeting under the pseudonym “Old Holborn”, Robert Ambridge actively seeks controversy. The self-professed “‘leave me alone’ pioneer type Libertarian” was recently the subject of a CPS investigation following his decision to post a picture of two overweight women on Twitter and callously state that they were the reason for the Hillsborough Disaster.

He also made crude comments on Twitter about the death of James Bulger which deeply distressed his (Bulger’s) mother. Such reckless and distasteful tweeting, needless to say, should be denounced. But why did Robert Ambridge escape prosecution under the recently published CPS Guidelines on Prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media?

Ambridge’s controversial tweets in question clearly did not constitute either 1) a threat of violence to a person or damage to property or 2) a breach of a court order, both of which, according to the guidelines, should be “prosecuted robustly“. Other communications which should also be prosecuted robustly are those which specifically target an individual or individuals and which may amount to harassment or stalking within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Given that Ambridge did not send the messages directly to any of the victims, it is difficult to argue that he targeted them specifically; his principal intention appears to have been to amuse (using very dark humour) rather than upset the subjects of his tweets. Had the latter been his main intention, Ambridge would have been undoubtedly more direct in causing offence; he in fact alludes to this when attempting to justify his comments by stating that “I didn’t target anyone. I didn’t send an email”. Moreover, his tweets would have been unlikely to form the requisite sequence of events to establish an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Accordingly, Ambridge’s communications fell to be considered by the CPS within the miscellaneous category of offensive communications: i.e. those which may be interpreted as grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false. The difficulty for prosecutors in considering whether a communication satisfies these criteria is that the CPS guidelines do not help to clarify murky case law on this subject. For instance, there is no definition in the CPS guidelines of what communications would qualify as “more than” offensive and therefore a prosecutor is largely left to form his own subjective assessment. Ambridge’s tweets were unquestionably insensitive but the Lord Chief Justice was at pains to stress in Chambers v DPP ([2012] EWHC 2157 (Admin)) that

“rude comment, the expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it should and no doubt will continue at their customary level”. [28]

A CPS spokesperson in this investigation emphasised that this was a “finely balanced decision” but that the messages were not considered “so grossly offensive as to meet the high threshold required to justify bringing criminal proceedings.” Had this threshold been reached, the CPS would then have needed to decide whether a prosecution was both necessary and proportionate. In so doing, a prosecutor should have had regard to, inter alia, Ambridge’s lack of contrition, expressed clearly in his statement “If they don’t like it, they should turn it off” , as well as evidence that his Twitter account was apparently temporarily disabled following complaints about the tweets which now appear to have been completely removed.

Although Ambridge has not been formally prosecuted for his comments, he has been punished in two other ways. Firstly, the shield of anonymity afforded to him by his Twitter alias has been seized from his grasp, with those harmed by his Hillsborough comments exposing his true identity online. As has recently been shown by Mary Beard’s decision to reveal the name of one of the internet trolls who plagued her on Twitter, exposing an individual’s identity can often be the best tactic to moderate his/her behaviour. Ambridge should choose his enemies more carefully in future.

Secondly, Ambridge has also reportedly received daily death threats as a result of his tweets which have caused him to take flight from his home in Braintree. Bearing in mind his ‘leave me alone’ libertarian political beliefs, such a move – if indeed it is true – must have been particularly galling for Old Holborn. His desire, however, as expressed on what appears to be his website,“to live in a society where I may speak freely and…still have the right to upset a few grief city victim whores who wish to impose their version of the written word upon the rest of us” remains unabated.

Despite the fact that Ambridge’s tweets in this instance were not sufficiently offensive to fall foul of criminal laws, he should not feel that he will remain immune from prosecution for similar tweets in the future. The ambiguous nature of the guidelines and case law leaves open the opportunity for one prosecutor to construe a particular tweet as grossly offensive where another might not. Old Holborn, you have been warned.

Rhory Robertson is a Partner and Tom Double a Trainee Solicitor working in the Collyer Bristow Cyber Investigations Unit.


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16 responses

20 11 2013
Old Holborn (@OHwinsAgain)

If I may address a few inacurracies in your “article”?

My identity has been widely known since January 2009 (http://www.anorak.co.uk/199477/politicians/bastard-old-holborn-is-gone-blogger-undone-by-war.html/) for those who chose to look and hundreds have met me in person at various Libertarian and free speech events I organise. I choose an online anonymous persona so that my detractors are forced to address the message, not the man.

Secondly, I was not “forced to flee my home in Braintree” as you describe. Photos of my house were widely distributed throughout the slums of Liverpool because it was for sale with various agents since January 2012. There are only so many empty bedrooms a man can find use for once his six children finally leave the family nest.

I realise that the new CPS guidelines came as a great shock to members of your “profession”, used to feeding heartily at the table of those who choose to take offense and I feel deeply for those amongst you who will be forced into bankruptcy by our new found freedom to insult each other without fear of prosecution.

Social media provides the many with a voice once only afforded the select few with deep pockets – a good thing. Being both a political commentator of some standing and an online satirist of national acclaim (Britain’s vilest troll – Daily Mail) means it is my job to offend people and act as a canary of free speech, something I undertake happily.

Now, about the damages I’d like to claim from you…..

20 11 2013
Bill

lol – Well said fella!

20 11 2013
Jenny

I’m no fan of Old Holborn, but this really is a shockingly poor and horribly biased article.

20 11 2013
Richard E

I don’t understand why you say this. You might not agree with the article but why is it “shockingly poor” or “biased”? It deals accurately with the Guidelines and explains why the decision not to prosecute was made. The authors may tend to the view that offensive comments are a bad thing but are they not entitled to that opinion?

20 11 2013
John

“He also made crude comments on Twitter about the death of James Bulger which deeply distressed his (Bulger’s) mother”

In a question to the people of Liverpool – who runs off to a dead child’s mum, shows her “crude” comments just to get a reaction and then comes on Twitter to gloat about how upset it made her?

How sick do you have to be?

20 11 2013
He's Spartacus

Ambulance chasers; the lowest form of human life.

20 11 2013
Young Holborn

I have enormous respect for Old Holborn and his steadfast defence of his freedom of expression in the face of some extreme and at times downright bizarre provocation. A few points:

– I fail to understand how it was a “finely balanced decision” given that he did nothing more than express a point of view and make a satirical point to an audience who had chosen to listen. There is a clear distinction to be made between directly provoking insult with the deliberate aim of causing distress and merely expressing one’s opinion. Holborn did the latter.

– Writeups like this tiptoe around the actual posts made, simply because to elaborate on what they were makes the whole thing look even more ridiculous. Quite why it is considered so upsetting to satirically note that the Hillsbrough grief industry paints all Liverpudlians as paragons of virtue and the victims of police incompetence APART from the misguided souls who killed James Bulger who are instead to be persecuted to an early grave in the name of decency despite having served their sentences and presumed to be rehabilitated. Should I too be investigated by the police for pointing this out?

– The twitter account which made the comments is unavailable due to widespread abuse of an automatic process used by Twitter which presumes that any account which is ‘reported’ x number of times must be unwanted. This has been used to great effect by enemies of free speech who have organised their own abusive campaigns to threaten and deny those who express points of view to which they do not agree. Old Holborn deserves great praise for refusing to be silenced.

– The comment that he should “choose his enemies” in future seems strangely sinister and unbecoming of supposedly professional legal minds. The implication is that we should not seek to speak out against that which we disagree for fear of the retribution we should receive. Opponents of tyranny worldwide will be fascinated with that advice. Given that these ‘enemies’ are people whose campaign of intimidation even extended to reporting those who had expressed support for OH to the police (and who were duly chastised for wasting police time) it seems odd that you feel they are deserving of special consideration. Quite the reverse I would say.

20 11 2013
Bobs Worst Nightmare

Perhaps Old Holborn would like to explain how he can justify publishing private mobile phone numbers, email addresses, accusing people of being convicted paedophiles etc all in the name of free speech. Most of those he targetted individuals with.

It may interest the authors of this article to know that Old Holborn has not yet escaped the clutches of the justice system.

There is at least one more ongoing investigation into actions by him and others online which endangered a man and his family by their actions.

He may have escaped over the Hillsborough tweets but the man hasn’t seemingly learnt that he can’t just say anything to anyone without consequences.

And his continued attacks on Jamie’s family including his stepfather are just further examples of Old Holborn’s stupidity.

Sooner or later the law will catch up with him and others.

Go and listen to his ITV interview on the Tonight programme and then ask yourselves what he really thinks about (a) his own family and (b) how his behaviour may affect more vulnerable people on the internet.

It’s very revealing – although Robert Ambridge wasn’t so keen as to show his face. That alone tells it’s own story.

20 11 2013
Bobs Worst Nightmare

Young Holborn said :
“- The comment that he should “choose his enemies” in future seems strangely sinister and unbecoming of supposedly professional legal minds. The implication is that we should not seek to speak out against that which we disagree for fear of the retribution we should receive. Opponents of tyranny worldwide will be fascinated with that advice. Given that these ‘enemies’ are people whose campaign of intimidation even extended to reporting those who had expressed support for OH to the police (and who were duly chastised for wasting police time) it seems odd that you feel they are deserving of special consideration. Quite the reverse I would say.”

No – incorrect. One person was reported to the police for making death threats and child abuse comments, the fact he had expressed support for Old Holborn was a side issue. Don’t believe everything the Libertarians tell you.

And this from Young Holborn is particularly ironic :

“- The twitter account which made the comments is unavailable due to widespread abuse of an automatic process used by Twitter which presumes that any account which is ‘reported’ x number of times must be unwanted. This has been used to great effect by enemies of free speech who have organised their own abusive campaigns to threaten and deny those who express points of view to which they do not agree. Old Holborn deserves great praise for refusing to be silenced.”

Whenever anyone on Twitter stands up against Old Holborn’s behaviour or similar, the “Libertarians” gang together and abuse the very same process that Young Holborn is using as a defence of Old Holborn.

The problem with the Libertarians is not Freedom of Speech – but it’s Freedom of Speech ONLY on their terms. That’s where the whole stance they adopt falls down.

Also Young Holborn said :-

“- I fail to understand how it was a “finely balanced decision” given that he did nothing more than express a point of view and make a satirical point to an audience who had chosen to listen. There is a clear distinction to be made between directly provoking insult with the deliberate aim of causing distress and merely expressing one’s opinion. Holborn did the latter.”

No – wrong again. Old Holborn’s tweets need to not be looked at in isolation but across who he send them to and what they are about. He was making references to the deaths of the 96 victims of Hillsborough in very disgusting ways AND at times targetting those comments to survivors and also campaigners for JFT96. He knew precisely what he was doing in my opinion.

Opinion can be expressed without the need to be offensive especially when targetted deliberately. For instance tweeting to say usernameX “you are a convicted paedophile” is not just an opinion.

When the likes of Young and Old Holborn’s realize the difference Twitter and other social media will be a much better and safer place.

20 11 2013
Old Holborn (@OHwinsAgain)

Sorry Ron, there is no “freedom of speech but…”

I take full responsibility for anything I tweet, write or publish. If you choose to feel offended and I have broken no law, the problem is yours, not mine. Your little group of thugs, however need to learn that contacting the employers of those who you disagree with on social media is no better than the actions of the former DDR Stasi agents – and is indeed illegal harassment. You are not the twitter police and as you have now found out with over 39 of your “outraged” twitter accounts suspended, you stand no chance of enforcing your warped version of free speech on anyone. It is not for you to decide what twitter is or is not, thankfully.

Perhaps the author of this article could advise you further (once he has finished training)? You’ll need deep pockets.

20 11 2013
Bobs Worst Nightmare

Well done Bob for proving precisely the point – it’s ok on YOUR terms.

As for contacting employers – think you’ll find that IF an employer has a social media policy then they have every right to know about what their employees are doing online. Especially if that employee has named their employer in their biography or tweets or posts etc. If the employer chooses to act on the information passed to them that is up to them. It is NOT illegal harassment to notify an employer of an employees behaviour. That is in fact just freedom of speech.

And thanks also for confirming that you and your mates abuse the Twitter reporting mechanism for people who disagree with you or stand up to your bullying which you’ve basically confessed to again.

Thanks too for confirming that you take full responsibility and have done so publically for tweeting stuff like “you are a convicted paedophile” to a specific individual and other things that were not opinion but stated as fact. I am certain the CPS will love that confession. You made the choice to do that though.

Much appreciated.

As for “deep pockets” – no.

CPS are the prosecution in a justice system case unless you are suing me in which case : go ahead please make my day or indeed decade.

Am sure any civil lawyer worth his salt would love all the harassment that have witnessed and seen you do to other people without a care for what happens to them or their families.

For instance you personally phoned certain phone numbers … do you remember that ? Still have the call logs and the numbers that your mates rang. That WAS harassment because that phone number was not previously publically available until YOU and YOUR friends published it. For instance also you published said private number with messages of “Free Pizza ring…” that was clear incitement to harass. The fact you personally rang it … ooops.

Your phone number however was in the public domain – you published it – all over the net in various domain registrations. Once your identity which you openly confess was revealed in 2009 was re-found it was only a question of people putting the pieces together.

Anyway – what do you care about what you get as harassment ? Your interview on ITV makes it quite clear you don’t.

See how this works yet ?

Oh look – have just used Freedom of Speech.

20 11 2013
C Jones

Well said Old Holborne. I have been a long time reader of your blog and since when has having a dark sense of humour been a crime? Death threats (which the author of this piece does not condemn) are a different matter and I hope the police have been as rigorous in hunting down the perpetrators. Keep up the good work OH in exposing hypocrisy and entertaining us with your opinions.

20 11 2013
20 11 2013
21 11 2013
multiple sarcasm

why do people still give oxygen to Old Holborn? He had 19,000 followers, real social media influence and presence, and blew it all over his hatred of one city. Let him keep his free speech as comments wise, he’ll hang himself with his own rope one day.

24 11 2013
Think before you tweet. Will Old Holborn ever l...

[…] Tweeting under the pseudonym “Old Holborn”, Robert Ambridge actively seeks controversy.  […]

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