Man Cleared Of Facebook Harassment Charges

    March 27, 2008

A UK man from Birmingham has had harassment charges dismissed over his contacting of an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. The case is thought to be a first in the UK involving a social networking site.

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Michael Hurst was accused of harassing Sophie Sladden under the 1997 Harassment Act. Magistrates cleared the carpenter saying prosecutors had failed to prove that he used a Facebook friend request to harass his former girlfriend.

Chairwoman Catherine Taylor said," We are of the view the Facebook incident has not been proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. We therefore have to dismiss the charge."

Sladden told the court that Hurst’s attempt to contact her on Facebook had made her feel uneasy. "I felt very scared," she said. "It affected my social and my work life, and my personal life and my emotional health."

The defense pointed out that by joining Facebook she had invited people to contact her. "You put yourself on Facebook so anyone in the world could have tried to contact you," Howard Joy said. "And if you did not want them to contact you, you could have just said ‘no’ to their request."

Hurst maintained he joined Facebook to look at Christmas party photos, not to contact Sladden. "I looked at the pictures and when I clicked on their names their profile pages opened up. Some of those people were Sophie’s friends as well. I didn’t go looking for her," he said.

The prosecution said Hurst had been warned in November 2007 for repeatedly contacting Sladden.