Suffolk Constabulary dealing with high number of offences on social media

Social media crime a big issue in Suffolk.

Social media crime a big issue in Suffolk. - Credit: PA

New figures have revealed Suffolk Constabulary charged or cautioned 136 people for offences on social media between 2010 and 2013.

Data released today by civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch found the force came top in the country of those who could provide the details following a Freedom of Information request.

Suffolk Constabulary also came third in a table for charges or cautions made under the Communications and the Malicious Communications acts, with 523 cases.

Not all forces, including Essex Police, released or hold the information.

Big Brother Watch say the legislation was brought in before the rise of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and is therefore both ill-suited and used inconsistently.

Dan Nesbitt, research director at the campaign group, said: “It is of concern that outdated, loosely-worded and confusing legislation is being used on a regular basis to police our communications.

“This report has shown there is very little standardisation between police forces in how often these powers are used and in how they are recorded. This means that the current picture is patchy at best and at worst completely misleading.

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“In the age of social media it is essential action be taken to ensure legislation is up to date, proportionate and properly recorded. Until then more individuals, most of whom are guilty of stupidity rather than criminality, will find themselves unnecessarily dealing with the law.”

However Detective Chief Inspector Tonya Antonis, from Suffolk Constabulary, said police used whatever tools were available to them to bring justice for victims.

Det Ch Insp Antonis said: “When police receive a report of any possible crime they look at what offences have been committed under existing legislation.

“Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 says a person is guilty of an offence if they send by a public electronic communication network a message that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character and, where appropriate, we will use this legislation to prosecute in order to get justice for victims of abuse. This is just one piece of legislation available to police.

“We take reports of abuse or harassment via social media seriously. All reports are assessed on an individual basis and we will investigate any offences disclosed.

“Social media has experienced rapid growth over recent years and police have seen a corresponding increase in the number of complaints about abuse via the medium.

“We want victims to have confidence to report incidents, and would encourage anyone who is a victim of crime to contact us and we will pursue cases under whichever legislation is most appropriate.”