28 April 2021

I take no satisfaction in the imprisonment of my online abuser

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I wrote this piece in March 2020, to draw attention to the issue of online harassment. The subject of the article, David Lindsay, had just been convicted at Durham Crown Court of malicious communication and perverting the course of justice. As described in the article, he had sent an anonymous death threat to 57 Labour councillors and then attempted to evade trial by faking a letter purporting to be a threat to his own life from international terrorists. After my article appeared, Lindsay was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, a community order and an indefinite criminal behaviour order.

I expressed the hope that this sanction would help Lindsay get his life on track, but I did not really expect this to happen. He had already (in 2015) sent me an anonymous antisemitic death threat, and I expected him to eventually end up in court. So it proved and his behaviour actually worsened thereafter. Last month he pleaded guilty to three charges of harassment, and this week he was sentenced to 12 months in jail. In his original trial in 2020, the judge referred to Lindsay’s physical condition (press photographs reveal him to be obese, and he carries a walking stick) as a reason why he would find imprisonment hard. That appears to have persuaded Lindsay that he was invulnerable; at any rate, his harassment continued beyond his sentencing.

Lindsay himself is a trivial personality: a blogger who, as far as I can tell, has never had a job and, at the age of 43, lives with his mother. But he exemplifies the problem of online trolling. The digital age has given the opportunity to malevolent people of directly contacting public figures and harassing them. In Lindsay’s case, he has done it with private people as well. The two victims of his latest harassment are, respectively (and as has been reported in the local press), a former Labour Party official in the north-east, and a safeguarding coordinator of the Roman Catholic diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Though I know who they are, I won’t name them. And their experience has been appalling. Lindsay, among other things, sent an anonymous letter to the diocese falsely claiming that the safeguarding coordinator had abused a child.

I do not know the answer to the problem of online trolls and fanatics. But it is real and pressing, and blameless private citizens like Lindsay’s two recent victims are getting hurt. I have kept on this man’s case yet can feel no satisfaction at his imprisonment – only relief that he is now out of action, and gratitude that the police and the courts are willing to act.

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Oliver Kamm is a columnist and leader writer for The Times.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.