A 31 years-old unemployed chef has been convicted of posting a grossly offensive and menacing message on the social network site Facebook against East Derry M.P. Gregory Campbell following the D.U.P. politician’s media comments in the aftermath of the publication last June of the Saville Report into the Bloody Sunday killings.
In the first prosecution of its kind in the U.K., Daryl O’Donnell from Belvedere Park, Foyle Springs, in Derry, was today found guilty of committing the offence on June 20 of last year following a contested hearing at the city’s Magistrate’s Court.
O’Donnell, a father of two, admitted posting a message on Facebook about Mr. Campbell which stated: “He’s a dirty Orange lying b...... and should get a bullet in the head. At least he would have got it for something - scumbag”. However he denied that the message was either offensive or menacing.
“I was not born on Bloody Sunday but I saw the effects it had on the people in Guildhall Square last June and on my father who was there on the day. There were people crying and a great weight had been lifted off their shoulders. It was a great day all round and when I got home and saw the comments Gregory Campbell had made on the news about the Inquiry costing too much money, I was very angry”, he told District Judge Barney McElholm.
“In anger I decided to post my own comment. The reason why I said he should get a bullet in the head was because people were murdered on Bloody Sunday. It was a throwaway comment, I never meant any harm by it. When I woke up the next day and checked my Facebook page, another 1,400 or 1,500 other comments were posted about Gregory Campbell. When I saw my own comment again I decided to take it off because I realised I should have kept my opinions to myself.
“I stand by the comments I said. I did not mean them to be offensive, I was just expressing my opinion”, he added.
Earlier Detective Constable Richard Jack had told the court that the comment was brought to the attention of the police by Mr. Campbell on June 21, the day after it was posted.
“Mr. Campbell then came to Strand Road Police Station and had a meeting with a detective inspector and with the then area commander Chris Yates. He said the comment was threatening both to himself and his family and he feared it may be carried out. He perceived the comment to be a threat which he took seriously”, the officer said.
The officer said a police investigation started during which the defendant was interviewed.
“I then contacted the Public Prosecution Service and asked them if a statement would be required from Mr. Campbell. They told me it would not be required”, he said.
Applying for a direction, defence barrister David Heraghty said while the comment could be described as offensive, it did not reach the threshold of being grossly offensive.
However his application was refused and the District Judge convicted the defendant.
“There is no doubt that Bloody Sunday was an absolute outrage against any concept of natural justice and indeed against the rule of law. It brought a lot of people in due course into the legal profession, including myself”, said Mr. McElholm.
“Mr. Campbell was in one way entitled to comment about how much the Bloody Sunday Inquiry had cost, but someone else might say if the government in Westminister at the time had simply apologised there would not have been the need for the Inquiry.
“There is no doubt many people in this city were outraged by Mr. Campbell’s comments but he was entitled to make them and that is the nature of democracy. Many people were outraged by Mr. Campbell’s comments. Many people were not. Therein is the nature of politics in this society. He was entitled to express his opinions and no doubt in some quarters he had plenty of support for them and in others he received plenty of opposition.
“The Bloody Sunday march was a peaceful demonstration, a dignified demonstration and its bloody aftermath is something we have had to live with over the years. But for Mr. O’Donnell to post this sort of comment was wrong. These comments are grossly offensive and menacing.
“The problem is when you rouse the rabble it is very hard to put them back into their houses and this country above all has learnt the lesson of that”, he added.
The District Judge said the defendant would be sentenced on July 29 following the preparation of a pre-sentence report.
“I want to make it clear I am not considering a custodial sentence but I think Mr. O’Donnell may benefit from some contact with the probation services”, he said.