Vice News YouTube video commenter set for retrial over 'menacing' posts

He was originally cleared of any criminal offence

The Royal Courts of Justice in London
The DPP's appeal was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice

A man under police surveillance who was cleared of criminal offences after leaving unpleasant comments on YouTube will be tried again after the Director of Public Prosecutions got his acquittal overturned.

Kingsley Anthony Smith, a 19-year-old of Woodbridge Close, Luton, was cleared of four charges of breaking Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 after using his Google+ account to leave comments under news videos.

The Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorist Command was monitoring Smith because they said he was attending “extremist Islamic fundraising events”. Police searched for him online and found a video where he described his “return to Islam”, which led them to Smith’s Google+ account.

The four comments that got Smith hauled into Luton Magistrates’ Court in September last year included “If I see Paul Golding, I’d slice his throat” under a Vice News video titled “London’s Holy Turf War” and featuring the leader of far right anti-Islam group Britain First.

Another video from Vice News titled “The Islamic State” attracted the comment “Allahu Akhbar, kill the Kuffir” from Smith. Under another video, not by Vice, titled “David Cameron Exposed on Islam” and featuring the former prime minister pleading for religious tolerance, Smith wrote: “I’m going to put an IED [improvised explosive device] on your doorstep.” Underneath a fourth video titled “British Military Power” Smith said: “One day I will kill the kuffir, Allahu Akhbar.”

District Judge Leigh-Smith cleared Smith of the four charges of “sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that was grossly offensive or of a menacing character.” He referred to the Twitter Joke Trial of 2012, where someone joked on the social network about blowing up an airport and was prosecuted.

Judge Leigh-Smith found that the messages did not create menace, “fear or apprehension in those to whom they were communicated,” adding: “I noted the extreme lack of expedition with which the police actioned their discovery of these threats. There was no evidence of any action being taken regarding them, other than in this prosecution. There was no evidence that anyone complained, that anyone was angered or upset, or indeed encouraged to act.”

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) then stepped in, appealing against Smith’s acquittal on three grounds: that his comments genuinely were menacing; that they were grossly offensive; and that Judge Leigh-Smith got the law wrong by using the police’s lazy response as proof the messages were not genuinely menacing or offensive.

Mr Justice Sweeney, sitting in the Administrative Court, agreed with all of the DPP’s points in a judgement published last week. Along with Lord Justice Irwin he ordered Smith’s case to be sent back to Luton Magistrates for retrial before another judge. Mr Justice Sweeney said: “The messages were clearly not a joke... It was perfectly reasonable for the police to prioritise other cases, and there was evidence that taking down things that were posted online was very difficult.” ®

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