Girls Aloud Fantasist Faces the Chop
A man has been arrested and charged over a blog post detailing the imaginary kidnap, torture and murder of the members of Girls Aloud. He has been charged with the publishing of an obscene article, police said.
Darryn Walker, 35 and of Mowbray Road in South Shields, is accused of writing the web-published fantasy about the members of the pop group. He was arrested in February after reports by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a body which reports potentially obscene material on the internet.
Walker was charged at South Tyneside Magistrates' Court in late July with publishing an obscene article, according to a spokeswoman for London's Metropolitan Police, where the Obscene Publications Unit is based.
The Obscene Publications Act is more usually used to prosecute individuals over images rather than words. It makes it an offence to publish material which might deprave or corrupt those seeing it.
The IWF said that it had passed details to police after being told of the site. Though it was not hosted in the UK, said a spokeswoman, the site did have UK links on it so a report was passed to police.
The IWF spokeswoman said that it reported any material that it came across that fell under the Obscene Publications Act.
According to the Act it is an offence to publish something likely to "deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in" the article.
If for no other reason, this story is interesting simply because it’s the first time since 1991 that the Obscene Publications Act has been used to prosecute someone in respect of written content. Regarding the wider issues at play here, John Ozimek over at The Register makes an interesting observation:
Reading between the lines, this feels like a very tentative “toe in the water” on the part of the Met. After investigating the material in question, they clearly believe that this may at last be enough for a successful prosecution - they put the file before the Crown Prosecution Service, who appear to agree.
And, Ozimek points out, should the case result in a guilty verdict, the impact it has on web content could be considerable. The law relating to the regulation of the internet is going through a seminal phase at the moment with rumblings of discontent coming up from all angles. Still, I think it’s fair to say that some of these issues relating to the internet regulation are being taking more seriously – as evidenced by the Government’s decision to finally back a Police Central E-crime Unit due to become operational in Spring next year, for instance.
While I didn't have the opportunity to read the material in question that Darryn Walker published, the sketchy details that do exist on the story make me think that the IWF and the Metropolitan police are keen to make an example of him. Web liberalists, of course, are crying out that this is a step towards wider web censorship. Be that as it may, I think the consensus of opinion out there is that the net does need policing – at least to some extent. Perhaps Walker’s frenzied ramblings about the kidnap and murder of Girls Aloud was a step too far outside of the accepted comfort zones and that having such content out there is truly dangerous. Quite honestly, I think there is a lot of material available out there that should be considered much more dangerous and more likely to deprave and corrupt than this. And, if this type of content is truly egregious enough to warrant legal intervention, is a piece of legislation that was drafted decades before the internet was even in existence the right tool for the job? I don't know. What I do suspect, however, that should a guilty verdict be returned, it will likely make us all think a little harder before publishing content on the web.