Sunderland man Leonard Lowther found not guilty of harassing city MP Julie Elliott
A man charged with using social media to harass Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott has been cleared.
The 66-year-old, of Pier Cottages, Marine Walk, Roker, stood trial at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court last month as he denied the charge relating to Facebook posts on his page, one he administered called The Problem with Sunderland is Labour, and his Twitter account.
It was said between February 2018 and October 2018 he harassed Ms Elliott by repeatedly publishing a menacing message online and contacting her via Twitter.
The charged added Mr Lowther repeatedly claimed Ms Elliott was guilty of perverting the course of justice and accused her of conspiring with others to “use Northumbria Police as a personal police force.”
Police said posts using the phrase “Hang the old hag” and an image of a woman hanging became “synonymous” with the inquiry, while Mr Lowther had also claimed she and her office created a “fake document” to incriminate another man under investigation.
The court heard the posts began after Mr Lowther alleged wrongdoing by Sunderland City Council over the Pier Point development, with an inquiry carried out by the Labour MP’s office finding no cause for concern.
During her evidence, Ms Elliott said the messages left her fearful to leave her home and be in the city centre alone, while her office upped security over the "relentless” posts, stating they played part in performing “badly” in the 2019 General Election.
The court heard a police interview in which Mr Lowther expressed concern about this freedom of speech. He denied any threats towards the politician and did not condone violence when talking about politics, stating his posts had been criticism, not harassment.
In her judgement, District Judge Kathryn Meek said she was satisfied the communications could be described as “unattractive, irritating, annoying, inconvenient, and at times offensive.”
However, she continued by saying she was not satisfied she was “sure beyond reasonable doubt that in the context of all the relevant factors in this case that the communications that formed the course of conduct crossed the boundary into what can properly and objectively be described as oppressive and unacceptable such that they amounted to the criminal act of harassment."
As she explained her decision, she noted the facts of the case may have founded a prosecution for other charges and said had they done so, the outcome may have been different.
She went on to say Mr Lowther would now be aware of the impact the MP considers his activities have had on her, her staff and her family and that others may be encouraged to act by his communications and they too could have an adverse consequence.
"At the very least there is something to be said about responsible use of social media and I hope Mr Lowther gives that some consideration," she said.
Mr Lowther left the court once discharged and as legal discussions continued over the Crown’s application for a Protection from Harassment Act, to be considered on another day and to be opposed by Mr Lowther.
An order was made to meet some court costs out of central funds.