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Home | 2017 | October

The UK Communications Act 2003

Posted by Thersites on UTC 2017-10-18 10:53.

Apparently there is a sport or hobby called Airsoft, which is a bit like paintball without the paint. The emphasis seems to be on the optics of shooting: very realistic guns and uniforms. The 'about' for Airsoft Scotland puts it nicely:

As airsofters we enjoyed laugh you get from meeting all the different people at all the different sites, so we decided to create this page in order to join the whole Scottish airsoft community together and share our experience on different sites we've played at and different guns we've tried ect... End of the day we are all a bit bonkers to pay to shoot the shit out of each other :p

Please share the page with the fellow airsoft nuts! :)

They sound a cheerful lot – they're certainly not radiating hate. A browse around this facebook page will give you a good idea of what's involved.

Are you hiding in fear under the table after reading this? Probably not. This particular website has been going since 2012 and there are quite a few other sites on facebook alone, so the hobby is established and well supported. The thumbnail image for the present piece comes from a YouTube video of a Scottish Airsoft War Games group in action.

Stuart Brodie of Police Scotland found a photo of a gentleman called Christopher Turnbull, of Grangemouth, Scotland, posing with his armoury on a facebook page. We presume Brodie was either just fishing around hoping to find something to fill his day, or using some image scanning software to locate pictures of guns.

Ten seconds' reflection would have assured Brodie that this was just one more photo by an 'airsofter'. A further ten seconds would have been enough to skim the comments on the photo to confirm that this really was a photo by an 'airsofter'. Unfortunately, he didn't.

Mr Turnbull was charged under Section 127(1)(a) of the UK Communications Act 2003:

A person is guilty of an offence if he sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character…

In Mr Turnbull's case the menace appears to be in his 'possession of a cache of firearms and explosives'.

During the period leading up to the trial his lawyer deployed all the arguments that are at the moment going through the heads of our readers: that Airsoft was an extremely popular leisure pursuit all over the world; that there were more than fifty thousand members in the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association – a regulatory body with which airsofters have to register; that 'around 300 pictures had been posted in July alone' on the Airsoft facebook page to which Mr Turnbull had posted his pictures. Despite all this rationality, the insane prosecution was not to be stopped.

Fortunately for Mr Turnbull, at the trial itself it became clear the police had given the photographic evidence against him a little helping hand by cutting off the exonerative comments thread. This break in the chain of evidence forced the magistrate to find Mr Turnbull not guilty. But only that. In giving his judgement the magistrate added, according to The Register, that 'he had intended convicting Turnbull' before this issue arose. In other words, all the arguments in defence of Mr Turnbull's photo counted for nothing. He only got off on a technicality.

If you are shocked at the handling of this case – the malignancy of the police, the malignancy of the prosecution, the malignancy of the manipulated evidence and the malignancy of the public announcement that concludes that a not-guilty man is not innocent – you need to work on your world-weariness.

In fact, this case just joins the baleful list of misguided prosecutions under Section 127 of the Communications Act of 2003 (NB: a Tessa Jowell innovation, which tells you all you need to know about it). This dismal list and the background to it has been compiled by the excellent Open Rights Group.

Mr Turnbull was found not guilty on 31 August. Since then, The Register has been the only major outlet carrying the story.

Nothing will be learned, no one will suffer for this nonsense: Officer Brodie of Police Scotland will continue to fish for images which offend or menace him; innocent people will be prosecuted for completely fatuous reasons; evidence will be presented by the police and the prosecution in a way that most damages the defendant, who will be lucky to get off on the kind of 'technicality' that helped Mr Turnbull. People will be reminded to think twice about whatever they post on social media.

Ultimately the process is the punishment.