The Countryside Alliance have welcomed new guidelines published by the Crown Prosecution Service earlier this week aimed at tackling online abuse.

 On Monday, 10th October, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, published new guidelines aimed at tackling online abuse, harassment and intimidation via social media.

The new social media guidelines for prosecutors make clear that those who encourage others to participate in online harassment campaigns-known as ‘virtual mobbing’-can face charges of encouraging an offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007. Examples of potentially criminal behaviour include making available personal information, for example a home address or bank details-a practice known as ‘doxxing’.

The Director of Public Prosecutions said:

“Social media can be used to educate, entertain and enlighten but there are also people who use it to bully, intimate and harass.

 “Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts, or encourage others to do the same, can and will be prosecuted.”

Over the past few years there have been a number of anti-badger cull activists and hunt saboteurs intimating and harassing people online.Last month huntsman Mark Doggrell from Somerset was subject to a campaign of harassment and intimidation online after a jury at Taunton Crown Court found him not guilty of GBH following a collision with a hunt saboteur in 2014, Nicola Rawson. The Stop the Cull Facebook page, administered by notorious activist Jay Tiernan, posted Mr Doggrel’s private address and wife’s telephone number online. This was reported to the police and is currently being investigated.

In 2012 Ministers fought to close an anti-cull website that disclosed the names and addresses of officials involved in the badger cull.

In response to the publication of the new guidelines, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, said:

The Countryside Alliance welcomes the publication of these new guidelines. Online abuse via social media is one of the fastest growing and complex areas of criminal law and the guidelines are useful in helping the public understand when a prosecution may be brought.

 “However, for these new guidelines to have any effect it is vital that they have teeth. Many of the most hardened and experienced activists find out ways to beat the system by operating anonymously. I was reassured that the Director of Public Prosecutions paid reference to this in her comments.

 “Last month Mark Doggrell and his family where subject to a campaign of harassment and abuse following the acquittal of his case by a jury at Taunton Crown Court. His private address and wife’s telephone number were published by the Save the Cull website and Facebook page (operated by Jay Tiernan). It is wrong that the individuals involved were able to hide behind anonymity.

 “Over the past few years there are been a growing number of cases of individuals being harassed and abused online. Very rarely has any action been taken against the perpetrators of this abuse. It is vital that these guidelines lead to a move towards justice being served.”