‘Discouragement’ after man charged with indecent abuse of DUP’s Arlene Foster escapes with caution

An MP who suffered online abuse has spoken of her discouragement after it was revealed that a man charged with abusing Arlene Foster was let off with a caution.

Thursday, 6th August 2020, 6:30 am
Updated Thursday, 6th August 2020, 5:28 pm
Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster have both suffered serious online abuse

In 2017 an eighteen-year-old man from Ballymartin, Co Down was charged with sending a “grossly offensive and indecent” message through a public electronic communications network to DUP leader Arlene Foster.

In recent weeks DUP MP Carla Lockhart, who has spoken out in the past about suffering online abuse, publicly defended Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, after the republican leader also became the target of online attacks.

However it then became apparent that the outcome of her party leader’s case had never been widely reported; The Courts Service has now told the News Letter that the court ordered the charges to be withdrawn and a caution given instead.

Upon hearing the news, Ms Lockhart said: “It is very discouraging when people are caught and then given a proverbial slap on the wrist.”

She added: “Where internet abusers are identified, the courts need to send a signal that their behaviour is unlawful and will not go unpunished.”

The charges against the suspect were similar to those laid against Pastor Jim McConnell in Belfast after a sermon he preached about Islam was streamed online in 2014.

However unlike the Foster case, Pastor McConnell did not accept a caution and endured a very high profile trial before being acquitted.

The Public prosecution Service explained why the charges in the Foster case were withdrawn, by comparison.

It said an initial decision to prosecute was reviewed after additional information was provided by the accused. Taking on board the views of the victim, it was then decided that an alternative to prosecution, in this case a caution, was appropriate and proceedings were withdrawn. A caution remains on a criminal record for five years, it added.

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