Back in October, Olly Cromwell sent what he thought was a pair of throwaway tweets. Half a year later, Cromwell faces up to six months in prison for those Twitter remarks.
Cromwell, real name John Graham Kerlen, was found guilty on Friday of sending what the law calls “grossly offensive” and “menacing” communications on Twitter to a council member in Bexley, a suburb of London.
The tweets in question use the c-word, yet Kerlen claims the saga is about more than using that word in a tweet—rather, he says it’s a “politically motivated prosecution” related to his citizen journalism efforts.
In October, Kerlen tweeted a photo of a home alleged to be that of Bexley Councillor Melvin Seymour, along with the text: “Which c--- lives in a house like this. Answers on a postcard to #bexleycouncil. (ignore my reflection)”
This was followed by another tweet reading, “It’s silly posting a picture of a house on Twitter without an address, that will come later. Please feel free to post actual shit.”
In that second tweet, Kerlen was urging his followers to send “dog feces” to his mailbox, claimed the victim, Seymour—though he admitted that he had not seen the tweet in question himself and he had not received any such packages.
The combat began in at least March of 2011, when Kerlen was refused access to a council meeting after filming proceedings at a previous meeting. He was later banned from the meeting for six months.
He was arrested for the above tweets in October and charged with harassment and “incitement to commit criminal damage.” The former charge was dropped at a pre-trial hearing in December, due to a lack of evidence, and instead Kerlen was charged with “grossly offensive malicious communications.”
At that point, he was given a restraining order, which among other things ordered him “not to own, operate or write on a website or social media any criticisms of Bexley Council” or “not to write directly or indirectly about Bexley Councillors on any site.”
Kerlen claims, “these are all elected representatives that means the state is restricting my access to the democratic process.” Kerlen says his free speech has been limited for seven months as a result of his bail conditions.
Kerlen’s conviction gained attention on Friday, when blogger Max Farquar wrote about it. Among the high-profile U.K. Twitter users weighing in with criticism of Kerlen’s conviction are Stephen Fry, actor Simon Pegg, and comedy writer Graham Linehan.
Chris Mills, a councillor in Petersfield, Hampshire, supported Kerlen’s right to freedom of speech.
“I am an elected councillor. As long as I'm not being harassed, residents can call me names if they want. #FreeTheBexleyOne,” he wrote.
Kerlen weighed on with his own post on the matter Sunday, where he wrote,
“At the end of October I was arrested for nonviolent harassment and was subsequently found not guilty because the prosecution could not find evidence that I was guilty. I was placed under bail conditions that severely restricted my freedom of speech before that trial and I am still under those bail conditions.”
“I was found guilty of sending said communication, and the judge in her ruling (paraphrasing) that she found the wording of my tweet grossly offensive and menacing. So yes I was convicted of using the word c--- and I was convicted for a throwaway remark on Twitter.”
This wasn’t the first time Kerlen had used the offending word to describe an elected official. In a post from last April, he noted that a member of parliament had told him off in person for “calling another MP a c--- one night on Twitter.”
Under Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, under which Kerlen was found guilty, he faces up to six months in prison. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on May 9.
Despite facing up to half a year in prison, Kerlen is unrepentant in his mission to hold Bexley Council accountable for alleged corruption.
“Would I do it all again? You bet your fucking arse I would.”
Photo via Twitter