Friday, August 5, 2005

Criminal stupidity?

So, there’s been a fair bit in the news about 19 year old Sydney-sider Angela Sceats and her trial in England. Her offence? Running late for a plane and sending a joke SMS to a friend (Angela Forster) asking them to call the police and phone in a bomb threat to hold up the plane.

She was acquitted of any offence by a jury in 30 minutes. Once you read the texts, the reason is pretty obvious, though a full transcript of them is hard to come by.

Sceats text to Forster read: "Can you call the police. There is a bomb on board. The flight is 8.10. Leaving from Stansted. Going to Dublin. The number is 999. Do it now."

Forster texts back the message: “serious”, as in "[Are you] serious [?]".
Sceats replies: "Absolutely. Hurry up. Do it from the payphone outside. Put on an accent. Tell them there is a man with a gun to your head telling you to make the phone call."

Forster then calls 999 and apparently says: “I just got a message from my friend who is meant to be boarding the 8.10am flight from London to Dublin. She has just messaged me to say I have got to call the police. There is a bomb on board … I am not sure of the whole situation."

As a result of this call, Sceats is arrested at Stansted.

Several things strike me as more than a bit rough about this story.

The first is that anyone was so foolish as to take the texts seriously.

The second is that the judge held Sceats would have to pay her £15,000 legal costs because (in a dubious bit of reasoning) if convicted she would have gone to jail, and her actions still caused a security alert and created fear and a waste of public resources.

This seems to be using legal costs to impose a fine, on a person found innocent of any offence. Sceats has also had to remain in the UK pending her trial and missed what should have been her first year of uni.

The third is that Forster wasn’t charged with anything, or even summoned to give evidence. Okay, making out intent against her would have been pretty hard.

Still, it’s a high price to pay for a poor taste joke and a friend’s stupidity.

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