Internet trolls rise

Azhar Ahmed, 19, found guilty of sending grossly offensive communication.
Azhar Ahmed, 19, found guilty of sending grossly offensive communication.

ONLINE abuse has landed dozens of people on the wrong side of the law after hundreds of crimes were allegedly committed on the internet.

Lancashire Police received 250 crime reports related to increasingly popular social networking sites Twitter and Facebook in 2012 – and officers are warning the phenomenon is placing increasing pressure on police time.

The force received six reports of online murder threats, while there were numerous claims of sexual offences including grooming, complaints of stalking, allegations of racially aggravated conduct and reports of fraud.

Now, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) has said the crime surge – in 2008 Lancashire Police only received 13 reports of social networking crime – could lead to every force needing a Twitter Squad to deal with the reports.

Chief Con Andy Trotter, ACPO’s lead on communications, said: “In my opinion, that would not be a good use of resources in difficult financial times.

“We need to accept people have the right to communicate, even to communicate in an obnoxious or disagreeable way, and there is no desire on the part of the police to get involved in that judgment.

“But equally, there are many offences involving social media such as harassment or genuine threats of violence which cause real harm.

“It is that higher end of offending which forces need to concentrate on.”

Just 78 of the incidents reported to Lancashire Police resulted in people being charged, while in 2008 there were three charges.

Natalie Coupe, the widow of St Annes soldier Sgt Nigel Coupe, killed in March aged 33 while serving with the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was targeted by Facebook trolls – people who anonymously abuse others online – last year.

In October, Azhar Ahmed, from West Yorkshire, was found guilty of sending grossly offensive communication after posting “all soldiers should die and go to hell” two days after Sgt Coupe’s death.

Ahmed was handed a two-year community order, and Mrs Coupe has since welcomed the crown prosecution service’s plans to crackdown on internet trolls and said although she supported freedom of speech, people needed to realise when what they wrote was “hurtful and upsetting”.