• MALICIOUS COMMUNICATIONS •
A common and particularly unpleasant form of harassment is that involving malicious communications either through the post, the telephone, Fax, by cyberstalking through the internet or, an increasing problem, by the use of Text or SMS messages sent to mobile phones.
Where an offensive or threatening letter or call is received the police should be informed particularly if the harassment continues.
DO NOT DESTROY THE LETTER or envelope. They will be needed as evidence in any criminal or civil trial. The police will also need the envelope in order to trace the sender or to check for fingerprints or other forensic evidence. If it is a phone call and it is possible to obtain a recording then that too should be retained and not destroyed. The same applies to offensive e-mails, faxes and text messages.
If it is a case of anonymous telephone calls then BT should be informed. They work with the police to trace malicious telephone callers and they have a very dedicated specialist department with an excellent record in this area.
Click here to go to The BT Malicious Telephone Calls Web Site
In many situations the recipient of malicious messages knows who the sender is. It may be a former partner or a relative. In these situations there may be a reluctance to involve the police. In those circumstances the victim could consider taking out an Injunction under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. I would always advise informing the police especially if the messages are in any way threatening. BT incidentally will insist on the police being informed before they will assist in tracing an anonymous caller. Even if the police decide not to prosecute they may give the offender a formal warning which could be used in evidence if they repeated their behaviour in future.
If the malicious caller is caught then the victim can sue the offender under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act for compensation for the anxiety and for any financial loss caused.
Cyberstalking is the sending of malicious messages through e-mail and the internet. Though based on modern technology it is in principle exactly the same as any other form of malicious communication and can be dealt with through the normal civil and criminal law. The police have successfully used the Protection from Harassment Act in order to prosecute the sending of offensive e-mails through the Internet and such messages will also constitute an
offence under the Malicious Communications Act.
There is often a lot of confusion as to the legal position where either the sender or the recipient of an offensive communication is outside the jurisdiction of English law. The Internet in particular is often assumed to be completely outside of any legal control. That is not the case though the legal position is not as clear as it could be and the Government has not specifically legislated to clarify the position.
In general terms provided the offensive message was either sent from within England and Wales or was received within England and Wales then an offence has been committed which the police and the courts in England and Wales can deal with.
Where the offender has sent the message from outside England and Wales the Police will usually inform their foreign counterparts. It will frequently be the case that the offender has also broken the law in his own jurisdiction and will be dealt with by the authorities in that jurisdiction.
Similarly if someone in England and Wales is harassing someone abroad by means of letters e-mails etc and the Police in England and Wales are informed of this then the offender could be arrested for criminal harassment and prosecuted regardless of the fact the victim was abroad.
· E-mail NEIL ADDISON at Harassment Law ·