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First 'Facebook harassment' defendant cleared

Friend request not proved

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A Birmingham man has been cleared of harassing his ex-girlfriend over Facebook in the first prosecution to specifically cite the social networking website.

Michael Hurst, 33, of Edgbaston, was accused of harassing Sophie Sladden under the 1997 Harassment Act.

Magistrates cleared the theatrical set builder yesterday, saying prosecutors had not proven that he used a Facebook friend request to harass his former partner.

Chairwoman Catherine Taylor said: "We are of the view the Facebook incident has not been proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. We therefore have to dismiss the charge."

Sladden had told the court that Hurst's alleged attempts to contact her via Facebook had frightened her. "It affected my social and my work life, my personal life and my emotional health," The Birmingham Mail reports she said.

The defence argued that by joining the site, she had invited people to get in touch. "You put yourself on Facebook so anyone in the world could have tried to contact you," Howard Joy said.

"And if you did not want them to contact you, you could have just said 'no' to their request."

In his evidence, Hurst said he joined Facebook to look at Christmas party photos, not to contact Sladden. "I looked at the pictures and when I clicked on their names their profile pages opened up. Some of those people were Sophie's friends as well. I didn’t go looking for her," he said

The prosecution said Hurst had previously been cautioned in November 2007 for continually contacting Sladden.

Last year, a Buckinghamshire man was jailed after a Facebook friend request he made violated an existing restraining order. ®

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