TWO Gwent men escaped a jail sentence yesterday after they admitted writing offensive comments on Facebook.

Cwmbran Magistrates’ Court heard labourer James Rogers, of Deepweir, Caldicot, wrote on his Facebook account on March 25: “What the ****? Just at Magor Services and there was a Muslim rag head praying on a mat. Makes me sick.”

His friend Richard Orzel, a plasterer of Kensington Gardens, Newport, replied to the post writing: “Spit on the ****” to which Rogers replied saying he would have “kicked the **** out of him” if there hadn’t been any CCTV around.

Police were alerted to the posts after two members of the public made complaints.

The friends were then arrested and admitted writing the posts, which have since been removed.

The men yesterday pleaded guilty to making offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing comments on a public electronic communications network on March 25.

Ian George, defending, said the comments were a “bit of banter” between the pair, but they nowrealised the seriousness of the matter and had expressed remorse. He said there was an obvious racial element to the offence, despite it not being contained in the charge, but said the man at Magor Services was not approached or subjected to any violence.

District Judge Richard Williams said the problem with these kinds of messages was that they had a degree of permanence and were capable of being seen by a number of people – at least two of whom made complaints “in a bid to register their displeasure and disgust”.

He said while the man to whom the comments referred to was probably unaware of them, Rogers and Orzel had still put “corrosive and offensive”

words into the public domain which he said caused damage to the wider society.

Rogers, 21, and Orzel, 29, were spared jail and were instead handed 28 days’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months.

They were each also ordered to complete 200 hours unpaid work and must pay £85 court costs

Public’s help vital in tackling hate crime

SUPERINTENDENT Dave Johnson, who has responsibility for tackling hate crime for Gwent Police, said this prosecution served as a warning to individuals who commit hate crimes including, as in this case, the use of offensive language via social media messaging, that they are not immune to prosecution and will be identified.

He said: “It is heartening to know that we were alerted to this offence by concerned members of the public. It is widely acknowledged that hate crime is under-reported and, while we work very closely with our partners to encourage reporting so crimes can be investigated and the victim given the support they need, the assistance we get from the community in bringing these offences to our attention is invaluable.

“We would encourage anyone who has been a victim of hate crime or has any knowledge of a hate crime to report it to police on 101.”

EDITORIAL COMMENT: ‘Banter’ is no defence

AN INCREASING number of people are being brought before the courts for posting offensive messages on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Gwent men James Rogers and Richard Orzel are the latest – given suspended jail sentences yesterday for posting grossly offensivematerial about a Muslim man seen by Rogers praying atMagor Services on the M4.

Their defence solicitor described the messages between the two men as “a bit of banter” – and therein lies the problem; many people just do not understand what happens when they use social media.

People post messages believing they are only being seen by themselves and their friends. In most cases, the reality is they are publishing their thoughts to the world.

Publishing brings with it a whole host of legal issues. Editors of newspapers or magazines or websites have to stop and think twice about what they publish. So should anyone using social media.

Those who bleat about freedom of speech in these instances are utterly incorrect.

Freedom brings with it responsibility. And giving voice to your thoughts – whether that is by posting of Facebook or shouting in the street – means the laws of the land are applicable to you.

Rogers and Orzel certainly deserved to be brought before the courts for their online rantings.

Sadly they will not be the last to learn such a lesson.