Hate speech and Hillsborough. How a disgraceful t-shirt led to a very modern and very public “punishment” – Ellis Schindler

8 06 2016

Screen-Shot-2016-06-02-at-08_42_10-542x620Over the Spring Bank Holiday, a man was arrested by West Mercia Police under Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 for wearing a highly offensive T-shirt to a local pub. Sounds draconian? Perhaps not when you consider the words that this individual had printed on the t-shirt in question.

He was snapped by two others who were sat near him in the beer garden, and were understandably outraged, and before long the image itself had gone viral (the image itself is blurred in the screenshot below – the words suggest that the Hillsborough disaster was “God’s way” of helping a pest control company).  Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986 states that:

A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to cause a person harassment, alarm or distress, he –

(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress.

Soon after, the man was charged with an offence committed under Section 5 of the Act “relating to the display of threatening and abusive sign and writing, likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”. Section 5 states that:

A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)  uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or

(b)  displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.

He has now been bailed and is set to appear at Worcester Magistrates’ Court in July. The punishment for an offence under Section 5 is a fine up to £1,000. Had he been charged under section 4A, he could have faced six months jail time if convicted.

The man is 50-year-old Paul Grange from Worcester. How do we know that? It doesn’t take long in the digital age, especially when information goes viral, for amateur detectives to uncover facts and personal details. Liverpool fans and other outraged members of the Twitter community got to work in identifying Mr Grange and also other details about him, including his home address.

The original image of Grange was uploaded to Twitter at 3.41pm on Sunday 29 May. By the next morning “Paul Grange” was trending on Twitter, with around 12,400 Tweets as of 11am on 30 May. At 2.25pm, West Mercia Police issued a statement on their website to say that Grange had been charged – less than 24 hours after the image was first posted.

Screen-Shot-2016-06-02-at-08_36_14-620x317

The revelation of Grange’s identity and personal information led to a campaign of vilification as people started ordering deliveries worth thousands of pounds to his home. These included 70 cans of Lilt, £600 of Viagra, 25 cement mixers, 10 eight-ton diggers, four taxis, two male strippers … and a partridge in a pear tree (probably).

One Twitter user set out this, apparently non-exhaustive, list:

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Someone’s home address can be surprisingly easy to find online. Upon registering to vote, individuals’ details are included in the Open Electoral Roll, which is commercially available and published by online databases such as 192.com. The Roll can be opted out of but often people are not aware of this. Individuals also often use their home addresses when registering limited companies. This information can also be seen publicly on the Companies House register, as well as on any websites that collate company information, and can be difficult to remove completely.

Twitter users have pointed out that there are innocent parties affected by the prank orders as the companies, particularly those raising large and bulky orders, may well have incurred unnecessary costs and resources in preparing orders. Members of the families of the Hillsborough victims have urged people not to rise to Grange’s bait and get into trouble for doing so.

The temptation to cause Grange hurt and inconvenience is understandable. A man who takes the time to have a shirt printed which mocks the tragic loss of human life is contemptible, however, those making false orders and getting them delivered to his address (and bragging about it on social media) do run the risk of complaints of harassment or even fraud.

Under section 11 of the Fraud Act 2006, it is an offence to obtain services dishonestly. This section comes into play where a person obtains services dishonestly, for themselves or for another, knowing that the services in question have been made available on the basis that payment has been, is being or will be made but avoids paying for the services in full and intended not to do so when obtaining them.

This whole sorry episode, and the way it has played out, is symptomatic of our times. Information and online community is a strong and readily available commodity now. Grange did something despicable and the outrage, and thirst for revenge, was palpable. Within a very short period of time his location, his name, his personal details and, of course, his own social media, were a matter of widespread public consumption. Grange himself has now removed his own social media accounts but not before others found them and uploaded screenshots of his posts to their own accounts. His posts apparently included yet more offensive remarks about the Hillsborough victims and an image of him wearing yet another insulting T-shirt, this time with derogatory comments about Scousers.

Even though his account may have been deleted, some of his posts can still be found through a Google Image Search for “Paul Grange”, along with several pictures of the T-shirt. The top links produced in the web results also link to relevant news articles about his arrest. This will be the first thing anyone looking into Grange will find out about him and likely will be for some time to come. There were suggestions online that Grange had lost his job. If this is true, and he comes to apply for new employment, he will need to hope that his new employer does not pop his name into Google before making a decision. The results are not pretty reading:

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This post originally appeared on the Himsworth Legal blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks


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