A judge handed the Jewish community an important new weapon in the battle against online hate this week when a Nazi sympathiser was jailed for sending virulently anti- Semitic tweets to a Jewish MP.
Politicians and police chiefs hailed the decision for setting “an important precedent” after 21-year-old Garron Helm was sentenced to four weeks in jail for using Twitter to show Labour front-bencher Luciana Berger with a Holocaust-era ‘Jude’ star superimposed onto her forehead.
Helm (pictured) sent the tweet under the hashtag “Hitler was right” and called the MP a “communist Jewess”. It added: “You can always trust a Jew to show their true colours eventually.”
Liverpool Magistrates Court heard that Helm sent the tweet in a state of “anger and political frustration” in the early hours of 7 August. But District Judge Andrew Shaw was not convinced, saying Helm’s actions were calculated and “extremely abusive and upsetting”.
The sentencing sparked a fresh wave of vile online abuse targeting the shadow public health minister. However, the ruling, which is believed to be the first time someone has been jailed for anti-Semitic statements made on social media, was praised as a turning point in the fight against racists and bigots online.
“The case has established an important precedent,” said John Mann MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism.
“It should serve as a warning that, either online or offline, anti-Semitic and racist hatred is simply unacceptable and will be tackled head-on.”
Berger, the Liverpool Wavertree MP and Shadow Public Health Minister who was praised for her role in bringing the prosecution, was described as “deeply shocked by the entire incident” after police found Nazi memorabilia, including a flag bearing the SS symbol at Helm’s home.
Reacting to the case, she said: “This sentence sends a clear message that hate crime is not tolerated in our country. I hope it serves as an encouragement to others to report hate crime whenever it rears its ugly head.” Communities Minister Stephen Williams agreed, saying: “This shows there is no place for purveyors of hate to hide and sends a message that we are serious about ensuring that those involved are arrested and prosecuted.”
Matthew Offord, MP for Hendon, said: “This sentence represents a new weapon in the fight against those who think anti-Semitic messaging will be tolerated. We need to take this weapon forward to tackle all online race-hate crime.”
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: “Hate crime is taken seriously by police and reports will be investigated thoroughly. The prosecution of offences on social media is subject to stringent guidelines.”
This is not the first time Berger has been involved in a court case regarding anti-Semitism against her. In 2013, a Merseyside music promoter was fined £120 after telling her he “hated” Jewish people.
Claire Lindley, Chief Prosecutor at the Mersey-Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service, said this week’s case crossed a line. “Freedom of speech must be upheld,” she said.
“But this was so grossly offensive that it crossed the threshold of criminality and was clearly targeted at Luciana Berger because of her religion.”
She added: “Some people think they can send whatever they like into cyberspace and won’t be caught. Well they are wrong and this prosecution proves it.”