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British man sentenced to 12 weeks in jail as result of Facebook posts

A youth in the United Kingdom has been sentenced to 12 weeks in prison as the result of abusive messages he posted to Facebook about two missing children, with the judge issuing the sentence saying that the comments were so abhorrent that they deserved the longest possible sentence available. Matthew Woods, an unemployed nineteen-year-old in Chorley, Lancashire, plead guilty to charges of sending by means of a public electronics communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive following being arrested for his own safety earlier this month.

Woods was responsible for multiple Facebook “jokes” about April Jones, a five-year-old girl who went missing near her home in Wales last week, as well as Madeleine McCann, who disappeared during her family’s vacation in Portugal back in 2007. David Edwards, who was defending Woods during the sentencing, told the Chorley magistrates court that the messages were posted “in one moment of drunken stupidity,” and that Woods now considers himself “public enemy number two – behind only the person who [was responsible for Jones' disappearance]” (46-year-old Mark Bridger was charged with the child’s murder earlier during the day).

Woods was actually arrested following a public outcry in response to the posts, in a very literal sense. Around 50 members of the public, having seen what he had written – including “Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid?” and other messages of a more disturbing, and more sexual, nature – went to Woods’ home, seemingly with the intent of terrorizing an apology out of him (He was actually arrested at a different address). Initially, Woods said that he posted the messages with the purpose of convincing people that his account had been hacked, but he admitted that “it got out of hand,” according to prosecutor Martina Jay. Edwards, in summation of the defense for his client, said that Woods “did seem genuinely remorseful and regretful for what he had done [and] fully accepts that he was the author of his own misfortune.”

Such penance didn’t win any favor from the magistrates hearing the case. Speaking before issuing the 12 week jail sentence, chairman of the bench magistrate Bill Hudson said that “The words and references used to the current case in Wales and that of the missing girl in Portugal are nothing less than shocking, so much so that no right thinking person in society should have communicated to them such fear and distress.” He went on to add that “The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offense, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive.”