A Co Antrim man who made Facebook comments featuring flame emojis in connection with claims about “convicted sex offenders” has been given a suspended jail term.
Christopher Trowlen admitted making a threat to destroy or damage premises and also pleaded guilty to improperly using a communications network by sending a message of a ‘menacing character’.
The charges relate to an incident last December.
At Antrim Magistrates Court on Tuesday, a prosecutor said on December 15 last year a community facility which aids “mental health” contacted police saying they were concerned about three Facebook posts by Trowlen (34), of Lakeview, Crumlin.
The first message said it ‘sounds like (the facility) needs a wee box of matches’; the second said ‘a wee box of BoPeeps are needed’ and the third said: ‘They took my comments down, not long until they are closed down’ and was followed by two flame emojis. The court was told the comments were posted by the defendant in response to other posts on the internet.
He was arrested and made full admissions, saying he “reacted wrongly” after seeing Facebook posts and told police he had “no intention of carrying out the threats”.
Defence barrister Neil Moore said the case showed the “difficulty for some individuals as regards their accessibility to social media and particularly in this case were Mr Trowlen had some alcohol taken”.
He said it is “too easy for people to read media posts and come to their own conclusions about certain activities that are being offered”.
Having read some posts about a community facility, Mr Moore said the defendant “rightly or wrongly believed that there was assistance being offered to convicted sex offenders. Those types of offences are emotive at the best of times”.
Mr Moore said others had passed comment on Trowlan’s remarks and there “was some support for his views”.
The barrister added that “he accepts now (that what he did) in the cold, sober, light of day was completely unmerited and certainly was something that would have led to concern”.
Mr Moore said Trowlen made “full and frank” admissions to police and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity in court.
He said the defendant normally worked in Dublin but due to lockdown is on universal credit.
District Judge Nigel Broderick told the defendant that Mr Moore was correct to identify “perhaps the downside of easy access to social media and the internet”.
The judge added: “There seems to be a feeling among certain members of society that whatever they say or do from the comfort of their own home behind the anonymity of a social media post, that in some way is not a serious matter.
“But these matters were taken very seriously by those who are performing a great service to the community.
“To learn on social media that somebody is making a veiled threat to burn the place down is obviously a matter of great concern to them
“I hope now in the cold light of day you realise how serious these matters are taken by the courts and if you ever engage in this behaviour in future the courts may not take as lenient a view as I am minded to do on this occasion”.
Handing down a four-month jail term, suspended for a year, the judge said: “Hopefully this has been a salutary lesson for you”.