2005-09-29

Intolerance: Internet VideoClips are Breach of The Peace

An hotel guest who showed an 'abhorrent and shocking' video of an Iraqi hostage being beheaded to an appalled worker was yesterday jailed for 60 days... Mr.Subhaan Younis, 23, showed Ms.Charlotte Mcclay the footage on his mobile phone while chatting to her in the shop where she worked at 'The Moat House' Hotel in Glasgow. A concierge assistant reported the matter to the police after spotting Ms.Mcclay looking pale and shaking minutes after she saw the clip. Lawyers last night said the case highlighted the danger of forwarding graphic material by e-mail or mobile phone -- and warned that even 'joke' e-mails sent to work colleagues could be viewed as a criminal act. Mr.Younis, of Baliol St in the city, who downloaded the clip from the Internet, had been staying in the hotel at the time of the offence on 2004-09-27. Defence solicitor Mr.Dominic Sellar told 'Glasgow District Court' his client, who was found guilty of breach of the peace 2005-08, accepted the images were 'abhorrent and shocking in the extreme'. Mr.Younis had shown Ms.Mcclay the footage during a conversation about 'The Attack on Iraq' after offering to let her see something that would 'cause her a sleepless night', said Mr.Younis's Defence Solicitor. The shop worker replied:
'Aye, right,' the court heard.
The solicitor said his client thought Ms.Mcclay realised she was about to see a video of a hostage beheading. Stipendiary magistrate Mr.Euan Edment said the complainer had been left 'shocked, upset and frightened' by the horrific clip and could be affected 'perhaps for the rest of her life'. Passing sentence, the magistrate told Mr.Younis:
'You chose to let her view the images on your telephone and told her that she might have nightmares. 'In my view, the woman had no idea about what she was about to view. No reasonable person might have anticipated viewing such dreadful and distressing images in such circumstances. 'I struggle to understand why any decent individual would have images showing the degradation and death of another human being, regardless of their race, political or religious persuasion.'
Mr.Younis's Defence Solicitor told the court that his client, who has previous convictions, mainly for road traffic offences, realised he had made a 'colossal mistake' and had behaved 'naïvely, foolishly and stupidly'. Mr.Paul Jackson, 19, who was a concierge assistant at 'The Moat House', said he had seen Ms.Mcclay walk out of the shop. He said:
'Charlotte just kept saying she couldn't believe what she had just seen.
'She was upset and water was welling up in her eyes.'
Mr.Donald Findlay, QC, one of Scotland's top lawyers, said the case served as a warning to people who send work colleagues and friends graphic material by e-mail or mobile phone. He said:
'What this case shows is that sending a video clip that contains something that is either offensive, distressing or alarming can be considered a "breach of the peace".'
Mr.Findlay said it was almost impossible to be sure that people would not be offended by many e-mails circulated around offices.
'The days of the office joke e-mail are probably numbered,' he said.
Media lawyer Mr.Campbell Deane, a partner at 'Bannatyne Kirkwood France' in Glasgow, said as far as he was aware the case was the first time that disseminating offensive material has been prosecuted as a 'breach of the peace' under Scots law. He said:
'The test for "breach of the peace" is putting somebody in a state of fear and alarm -- and that depends on the sensitivities of the person concerned. 'There was an e-mail doing the rounds a while ago where a guy is walking his Yorkshire terrier and gives it a really hard kick. It is very well edited so it looks real, though on closer inspection it is clearly a stunt. But if it was sent to a dog lover they could take it the wrong way and be deeply upset. 'You probably shouldn't go to jail for that, because it was a joke. But if today's decision is right, in the eyes of the law that wouldn't make much difference, as you are still placing that person in a state of alarm. 'This case should serve as a warning that courts can take a very serious attitude towards this sort of thing.'
'Ruling on beheading video could stop joke emails', MICHAEL HOWIE AND JUDE SHEERIN, The Scotsman, 2005-09-29, Th Links: Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Faculty of Advocates Scottish Courts Scottish Law Commission Scottish Law On-line The Law Society of Scotland The Lawyer

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