Two on trial for posting 'joke' looting comments on Facebook during English riots
TWO men told a jury today they were joking when during last August's riots in England they wrote online: "PC World Lancaster, 7.30pm. Let the looting begin. Could do with a new laptop!!!!"
Student Karl Manley, 28, updated his Facebook status with the message after watching the widespread disorder throughout London on television.
It was then copied by his friend, Stefan Johnson, 22, who put the same posting on to his account of the social networking website.
Both are accused of encouraging or assisting an offence of burglary to be committed, which they believed would happen.
A police support unit and community beat officers were sent to the store after the message was posted about lunchtime on August 9 but no troublemakers showed up and no incidents took place, Lancaster Crown Court heard.
Lancashire Constabulary had a team of intelligence officers monitoring the internet to deal with potential copycat incidents in the county and accessed both defendants' pages.
Manley was arrested at his home where he lives with his parents at 6pm the same day, while Johnson was detained three days later.
Mark Lamberty, prosecuting, said: "In early August of last year there were a number of riots around the country and this case is in connection with that
"A place was specified, a specific time was set down and then, say the Crown, an encouragement and incitement to commit an offence of burglary
"You will be familiar with the sort of scenes last August and the Crown will say this was designed to encourage it to happen in Lancaster."
Giving evidence, Manley said he had lost his part-time job at the Co-operative as a result of the court case but was continuing his second year studies in business management at the University of Cumbria.
He told the jury he had more than 500 Facebook friends and thought his status update would only been seen by them.
"I had no intention of putting it out to the whole world," he said.
"At the time on Facebook there was loads of jokes going around and banter.
"Looking back now it was a mistake. I generally just thought of it as a bit of a joke amongst my friends.
"I just made it up as I was writing it."
He added he had thought the rioting in London was "terrible".
Manley told his barrister that the Facebook post was intended as a joke to any of his friends who might have seen it and they would view it as such.
Mark Lamberty, cross-examining, said: "You were seeking to encourage rioting in Lancaster? "
"No, I was not," he replied."It was just a bit of banter.
"I was on holiday from work at the time, I was bored."
Johnson, a data processor from Lancaster, said he had met his co-defendant on a college course but was only online friends with him and had not communicated with for about two years before responding to his posting last year.
He replied to him: "Ha ha ha. That is brilliant. Sorry but I am going to have nick that status!".
"I thought it was funny because Karl Manley is an innocent guy," he told the jury.
"It was just a sarcastic joke. It was funny because of the manner it was said. Only because it came from Karl."
He denied a suggestion from Mr Lamberty that the only reason he had not gone to PC World on the night in question was that Manley had told him he had been arrested.
"Supposing if someone had gone to PC World, would you feel responsible?," questioned the prosecutor.
"That is just a 'what if?', said Johnson.
"You tried to get it to happen, didn't you?" said Mr Lamberty.
"No," he replied.
The court heard that both defendants counted police employees among their Facebook friends - Manley knew a female police custody officer and his cousin was a sergeant, while Johnson also knew a female part-time police officer.
The trial, scheduled to last two days, continues today.