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Teenagers facing jail over abusive Facebook posts

Published 16/03/2016

The two appeared before the High Court in London
The two appeared before the High Court in London

Two youths are facing jail over social media posts which made abusive comments about a judge and glorified a murderer.

Damien Parker-Stokes, 19, and a 17-year-old who cannot be identified, were guilty of a serious contempt of court, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and Mr Justice Ouseley heard at London's High Court on Wednesday.

The committal hearing follows the illegal taking of photos at the Bristol Crown Court sentencing of their friend, Ryan Sheppard, in August 2014, and the uploading of the images on Facebook.

Ben Watson, for Solicitor General Robert Buckland, said the pictures were accompanied by comments which "vilified" the judicial process and "glorified" Sheppard, who beat 35-year-old engineer Mark Roberts to death in an "unprovoked, sustained and brutal" attack in Weston-super-Mare in October 2013.

Mr Roberts, who lived with his fiancee and her two children, had spent the evening with friends at a social club.

Sheppard, who was 17 at the time of the crime and pleaded guilty, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 12 years and three months.

Mr Watson said the contempt was serious primarily because of the nature of the proceedings - but also because it showed the increasing difficulty faced by the criminal courts relating to the widespread access to mobile phones with cameras and the ability to upload images speedily onto the internet.

"These photos have considerable potential for the disruption of criminal proceedings by the use of social media."

He said that the Solicitor General was concerned that a clear message was sent of significant consequences for those who undertook such activity - including young people who were particularly likely to commit contempt in this way.

Counsel said that, before the sentencing, the 17-year-old took a photo of a judge in a different court and, during the hearing, Parker-Stokes took a series of five photographs and a video of Sheppard in the dock.

Parker-Stokes then posted one image of Sheppard on Sheppard's Facebook page with a comment which included the words: "Respect g at least u had the balls to admit it....".

The 17-year-old uploaded the same image on his own Facebook page with the words: "Ride or die certified south west g".

Two days later, the 17-year-old uploaded the image of the judge - who did not sentence Sheppard - with the comment: "Fuk (sic) the judge!".

Police were alerted and the youths admitted taking the photos and the postings in the face of overwhelming evidence.

The 17-year-old and Parker-Stokes maintain that their conduct did not amount to contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

When interviewed, both had denied knowing that photography in court was prohibited.

Mr Watson said that both had extensive criminal records.

The 17-year-old had nine convictions for 16 offences, including four offences relating to police, courts or prisons, while Parker-Stokes had 21 convictions for 54 offences, including 27 relating to police, courts or prisons.

The judges are expected to reserve their decision to a later date.

At the end of the hearing, the judges said they would give their ruling after Easter.

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