I’ve had my fair share of criticism on social media but when someone posted ‘I needed raping’ enough was enough
Reporter Amy Fenton from Newsquest daily The Mail reveals her ordeal after a sinister threat was posted online…
It’s fair to say that few court reporters will have escaped the wrath of a disgruntled defendant who disagrees with the concept of open justice.
No doubt we’re all familiar with the accusations that we have “made it up” or written “a pack of lies” and yes, this is something which goes with the territory.
But what doesn’t — or should I say shouldn’t — go with the territory is being subjected to veiled threats, vile abuse and trolling. And yet this is becoming all too common, not only for myself, but for many other reporters across the country — and indeed the world, irrespective of who they work for.
I’ve worked at The Mail in South Cumbria for almost 12 years and have probably covered thousands of court cases. So it comes as no surprise that I’ve been subjected to my fair share of criticism.
Most of which I have brushed off, as water off a duck’s back, but in the last three years the extent and seriousness of the abuse I’ve received has become increasingly sinister.
Over the last two years I’ve resorted to reporting the most serious and offensive of these comments (most of which are made on social media which will come as no surprise) to the police. And I’ve been disappointed to have been told, in the vast majority of cases, that no further action will be taken.
But earlier this year a friend of mine sent me a screenshot of a comment posted by someone on our own Facebook page in which they said “Amy Fenton needs raping”.
What made this all the more worrying was that the person who wrote it, Leroy McCarthy, is someone we have reported on in the past after he threatened to blow up the local hospital and vowed to join “his Islamic brothers”.
By this point I was doubtful that anything would be done, given my past experiences, but I reported it to the police here in Cumbria. The case was passed onto Greater Manchester Police after it was discovered Leroy now lived in Salford — meaning the offence had been committed in Manchester.
Leroy was charged and on February 26th he was sentenced to 20 weeks in jail after pleading guilty to a malicious communications offence. I was keen for the outcome to be reported so that not only would those who continue to direct abuse at reporters see action being taken but also to encourage other reporters to have the confidence to involve the authorities when subjected to similar.
For far too long reporters have been subjected to vile comments and threats simply for doing their job.
No journalist is taught to expect this, or even warned about it, as part of any accredited qualification or course and yet this is something which is becoming increasingly — and alarmingly, common.
But we shouldn’t have to expect this — nor should we be prepared to accept it.
When I saw Leroy’s threat — and in the context of the persistent harassment I have had to endure — including that which has come from those I considered to be my closest friends, I decided that enough was enough.
What he did strayed far beyond the criticism we might expect given the nature of our job. What he did was criminal and I have no doubt that countless other reporters have been subjected to equally criminal comments and threats and thought to themselves “this just comes with the territory”.
This has got to stop. Something needs to be done to protect and preserve our ability to report on issues in the public interest, including court cases.
If nothing changes then it will effectively be another, understandable, reason why anyone considering a career in journalism will choose another profession. And, let’s face it, our industry has enough obstacles to overcome as it is.
But there is hope. And the sentence handed to Leroy McCarthy does give us some hope. The prospect of being jailed for threatening a reporter should act as a shot across the bows for any trolls or keyboard warriors who see us as ‘fair game’.
But in order for things to change, and in order for these vile, pathetic losers to appreciate the consequences of their actions, as reporters we need to report to the police when we feel threatened, intimidated or frightened.
I just hope that my own experience helps to encourage other reporters to recognise when a line has been crossed and to give them the confidence to report anything which goes too far.