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Posted on September 28th, 2012 by Barry Collins

The BlackBerry typo that landed a man in jail

BlackBerry Bold 9780

There are quite a few stories on the Daily Mail website that are genuinely jaw-dropping, but none more so than the one that was brought to my attention by @allpointsnorth last night.

It concerns the case of 24-year-old swimming coach, Craig Evans, who was this week freed on appeal from an 18-month jail sentence for seemingly doing nothing more than accidentally sending an intimate text message to his entire address book.

Evans intended to send the message to his girlfriend, in which he reportedly asked her to have sex with him “skin on skin”, and asking whether she would prefer it to be “fast or slow”.  Nothing particularly explicit, although certainly not a message you’d want children to see.

Why this story hasn’t become an enormous scandal, along the lines of the Paul Chambers Twitter trial, astonishes me

Unfortunately, that’s just what happened, because somehow Evans managed to send the message to all the people in his BlackBerry Messenger address book, including two girls aged 13 and 14 who were in his swimming class. He was subsequently arrested and charged with “causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity”, and – incredibly – jailed for 18 months at Birmingham Crown Court in July.

Thankfully, his lawyers managed to locate a member of the judiciary with a modicum of common sense at the appeals court in London this week. Lord Justice Elias reportedly accepted that Evans hadn’t intended to target the girls with the explicit message, not least because it was also sent to several members of Evans’ own family. “It is difficult to conclude that he was targeting anyone,” Judge Elias concluded, before freeing – but not clearing – Evans. His sentence was merely reduced to a nine-month suspended jail term.  He will presumably spend the next however many years on the sex offenders’ register, ruining his career as a swimming coach.

Why this story hasn’t become an enormous scandal, along the lines of the Paul Chambers Twitter trial, astonishes me. In fact, a quick trawl of Google News finds only The Daily Mail and one other newspaper reporting it.

Remember, Chambers was merely fined for sending out a jokey tweet that the police somehow misinterpreted as a threat to blow up an airport, and the conviction was eventually quashed. Evans has already spent three months in jail for what seems like nothing more than a hideously unfortunate typo, and still has a sex crime conviction against his name.

Perhaps someone needs to let Stephen Fry, Al Murray and Chambers’ other celebrity backers know about this latest instance of the British justice system failing to grasp modern technology?

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52 Responses to “ The BlackBerry typo that landed a man in jail ”

  1. Jaffo Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 10:26 am

    I wrongly assumed that it was Birmingham, Alabama (or similar) at first. To discover it was here in the UK is quite saddening.

  2. MarkC Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 10:30 am

    Wow, that’s awful. How anyone could view that as anything other as a cringe-worth embarrassing mistake I don’t know.

    There has to be purpose to laws and their implementation – there’s no purpose here is there? Not one that’s evident anyway.

  3. Rumpole Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 10:34 am

    This was a Crown Court conviction which means it was a JURY that found him guilty. That’s a ‘jury of his peers’, not a judge. Once convicted, the judge sentences within the guidelines as dictated by the law.

    All that said, this should never have been a conviction if the facts as reported are accurate but that would depend on precisely which part of which act he was convicted under.

  4. Ryan Thomas Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 10:42 am

    How on earth did this even make it to court? It also makes you wonder what the hell the fella’s defence were playing at.

  5. aa121 Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Would be interesting to hear other side on this story. There must be something Daily Mail is not saying… Otherwise this would be even more scandalous than the Twitter joke case.

  6. PinkiePie Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Yeah I’m thinking there must be more to this story as well. If it was a single, out of touch judge who convicted him then yes, it’s plausible, but a jury of 12 people? Either the jury was made up entirely of self-righteous “think of the children!!!” types who just hear something may have happened to child and want to punish those deemed responsible to no end, or there’s more to it. If they were presented with clear evidence that he had accidentally sent it to every one of his contacts then how did it even get to court let alone result in conviction and why was he not cleared of all charges?
    Also, like the article states, why has it not been picked up by more media outlets if it is such a tragic mistake?

  7. SirRoderickSpode Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Every time and I do mean EVERY time I read an article in the Daily Mail, where I know about the subject in question, I find glaring factual inaccuracies. Parading as champions of justice and truth, they are actually pedlars of fear and hate.

    By the sound of it, an injustice was done in this case. However reading an article found in the Daily Mail does not a briefed man make.

    PCPro’s own headlines have tended towards hype and hyperbole of late. Please don’t let that nasty rag be the standard by which you measure your journalism.

  8. Paul Ockenden Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Is there more to the story than meets the eye?

    The reason I ask is because it’s incredibly difficult to send a text message to all of your contacts on a BlackBerry. There’s no built-in function for doing this.

  9. Istari Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    For the benefit of those going with the “It was a JURY that decided, so where there’s smoke there’s fire.” line of thinking – juries are usually made up of people not busy or smart enough to get out of jury service. Ask any court-room lawyer and they will tell you how notoriously *stupid* juries are.

  10. PedroStephano Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Hmmmm. DM is the only paper reporting this? The “CouldBeBS” and “Check Other Sources” alarms are ringing VERY loudly in my head.

  11. Tommo Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    It was supposedly using the BlackBerry Messenger service, rather than the text function, hence easy to send to all contacts…

  12. Bob Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    So the only ones reporting this are the Daily Mail and some unnamed newspaper? Maybe that’s why no one’s made a big deal out of this yet. No reliable sources. Does this person, Craig Evans, even exist?

  13. PedroStephano Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Addit – just googled it. The only other reference I found quotes the DM article. Logical conclusion? BS ++++.

    Don’t believe everything you read on the internets.

  14. Barry Collins Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    It was indeed the BlackBerry Messenger service that sent to all recipients, not straight SMS. The story has also been reported by other sources, including the Daily Telegraph, with independent quotes.

    I also checked the court records before publishing the blog, although that didn’t give me the full details of the case published in the newspaper accounts.

    Barry Collins

  15. Paul Ockenden Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Ah – my apologies then Barry. I read “text message” and instantly thought SMS.

    Bloody terminology!


  16. Jack Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    @Paul Ockenden – it’s possible to send a broadcast message via BBM; it wouldn’t be too difficult to accidentally select the ‘Select All’ check box.

  17. Peter Smith Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    To the commenters that say “there must be something else” – no there isn’t, there never is, otherwise it definitely would have been reported.

    The jury are instructed precisely on the law, and technically he broke it, and that is all that matters to the criminal justice system.

    The threat to those girls does not come from Craig Evans, but from a criminal justice system that is out of control.

  18. Ian M Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I think a more important question is – If he is a swimming coach why did he have the BBM contacts of young girls? I could understand him having the parents contact numbers, but not those of the young girls.

  19. Charlotte Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    Jaffo, if it was here in the US, in Alabama … sending the texts to his family members wouldn’t be proof that it was mistakenly sent out.

  20. Calladus Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    This happened because Mens rea is no longer a requirement to be punished for a “crime”. Prosecutors do not have to prove intent, only that the law was broken.

  21. Pete Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I smell a rat with this one – it’s a pretty juicy story (social media, sex, injustice) and for it to make appeal without his local newspaper picking up on it (as far as I can tell) is bizarre…

  22. Rumpole Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    They do have to prove intent if this was a conviction under section 10 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 Calladus. Section 10 is not a strict liability offence:-

    (1)A person aged 18 or over (A) commits an offence if—
    (a)he intentionally causes or incites another person (B) to engage in an activity,
    (b)the activity is sexual, and
    (i)B is under 16 and A does not reasonably believe that B is 16 or over, or
    (ii)B is under 13.

  23. noko Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I’m glad we live in a country where the jurors are as idiotic as American jurors.

  24. Charles Marsh Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    As is often pointed out, ‘law’ and ‘justice’ are two different concepts, and they only rarely coincide.
    I’ve always been puzzled why we say ‘law and order,’ given that the primary purpose of the law is to maintain order, or in other words, the status quo. That’s the same whether it’s upholding the First Amendment in America or stifling democracy in China.
    Here, we have a habit of drafting very broad legislation and have no form of constitutional court to act as a check. Better a few innocent people, like Evans, be punished than suffer the onslaught of the conservative press when one truly bad person gets off on a technicality. The CPS is supposed to act as a filter, but so often fails, e.g. Simon Walsh. And the UK’s completely closed jury system doesn’t help. How often do you see the words ‘jury nullification’ in our media?
    (I was really hoping there was no jury involved, and Evans had been passed up from Magistrates for sentencing or had pleaded guilty in Crown. But, looking at the court records referred to by Barry, no, there was indeed a Crown Court trial.)

  25. Richard Keys Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Every time such an incident happens, it causes a lot of trouble. It is only found to be a mistake after (possibly long and complex)investigation – in this case, possibly a whole address book of complaints and upset people! So, a mistake, and the punishment does seem disproportionate, but it is easy to see why authorities wish to stop this happening. “Is that a terrorist threat or just a joke?” Just the question everybody wants to spend their time thinking about.

  26. Jim Gribbin Says:
    September 28th, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    The judiciary of several counties, not just your’s, but mine and some others, needs to learn to exercise a little common sense. It seems to me enough that the guy has been publicly humiliated (on multiple continents no less). That he’s now branded a sex-offender? Too much!

  27. mmentm Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 2:33 am

    It would be easy to send an invitation to the two girls under the smokescreen of accidentally sending it to his whole address book. However, if the girls knew each other and could compare notes, and if the message had his girlfriends name in it, then these would be exonerating factors and he should have been cleared.

  28. Stephen Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 3:11 am

    “To the commenters that say “there must be something else” – no there isn’t, there never is, otherwise it definitely would have been reported.”

    All I can say is that I admire your optimism.

    I suppose CC’ing children into your sexting is analogous to accidentally letting a child see pornography — of course it’s less blameworthy than doing it deliberately but it’s not OK because it’s an accident.

  29. two00lbwaster Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 8:29 am

    I can see the case being as reported and it still being not all that shocking that Craig Evans has still not been cleared.

    There is no justice in the criminal justice system. The justice in the title is a misnomer and should have been changed quite some time ago. Maybe a better title would be ‘The execution of the law system’.

    I don’t believe we will see justice in the law system until we the people wrest control away from the corrupt political and peerage system.

  30. Rumpole Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Charlotte, nor is it here. What it *could* be though is reasonable doubt. Both here and in the US, the burden on the prosecution is to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Calladus, I have a response ‘awaiting moderation’ for your comment.

  31. Rumpole Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Peter Smith: On first reading of your comment I thought your ‘it definitely would have been reported’ was sarcasm. Now I’m not so sure. So in case it’s not, I can tell you from years of first hand experience that the reporting of a case by, particularly the print media, very often is woefully inaccurate. I often barely recognise cases as reported by the print media as those I have personally been involved in in a court room.

  32. James Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    There’s a UK BlackBerry site which picked it up cause it was BB related. They explain it a bit better as it didn’t make sense to me how you could send a mass text.

  33. dude Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    I think the real crime here, is that he owned a blackberry!

  34. Ron Says:
    September 29th, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    “To discover it was here in the UK is quite saddening.”

    Then you’ve been living under a rock. Your country’s idiocy and paranoia surpasses even that of the US.

  35. redsky Says:
    September 30th, 2012 at 8:44 am

    SirRoderickSpode Couldn’t agree more. It’s important for readers outside the UK to keep in mind that the Daily Mail is a) viciously right-wing, racist, sexist, and generally vile and b) a shining example of poor reporting, hysteria and inaccuracy.

    If the story’s true it’s a real shame that this innocent man is being punished – along with the kids he coaches.

  36. dasdasdas Says:
    September 30th, 2012 at 11:21 am

    It was supposedly using the BlackBerry Messenger service, rather than the text function, hence easy to send to all contacts…

  37. nicomo Says:
    September 30th, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Surely if the message was sent to all of the people in his address book then it would have been timestamped and should be seen by most as accidental.
    If however, the girls received the message first and several minutes clear of the rest of the people, then I would have some doubts.
    Hopefully Blackberry’s servers can help prove his innocence.

  38. Rumpole Says:
    October 1st, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    two00lbwaster: you are scarily correct in your assessment of the system. I would use its full title of ‘woefully underfunded, under resourced and poorly administered execution of the law system’ though.

  39. chepe263 Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    It was him all the time! Haha! Had no clue he sent me that message!

  40. John Ward Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Ah yes, dear old politicised Plod: absolutely crap at catching interent thieves, and ever-willing to turn a blind eye to the sins of the powerful…but always keen to nab someone for Thought Crime.
    I wish I could see this incident as funny, but I don’t.

  41. reader Says:
    October 2nd, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    According to the Lexis report (R v Evans [2012] All ER (D) 143) it doesn’t look like Evans appealed the conviction, only the sentence. There had been more than one message, on more than one occasion. Also, he wasn’t the girls’ coach, but simply employed at the same club. Definitely something odd about the case.

  42. Judge D Says:
    October 3rd, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I think the name of his legal firm should be published so we can all avoid them. They don’t sound very good.

  43. Judge D Says:
    October 3rd, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Also, it’s worth noting that even our hallowed jury system is imperfect. Worth thinking about if you are a supporter of the death penalty.

  44. name Says:
    October 3rd, 2012 at 8:43 am

    the judge is just miffed he missed out on an invite for some skin on skin action… fast or slow

  45. Mr Tom Says:
    October 4th, 2012 at 7:04 am

    The other side of this is that it undermines the registered sex offenders system.

    Previously, if you encountered one, you knew they were dangerous for some unpleasant reason. Now, you actually have no idea whether they’ve ever actually done anything that anybody would ever consider to be really wrong at all.

  46. Peter Harris Says:
    October 4th, 2012 at 11:14 am

    It’s not the British justice system which has failed to grasp modern technology; it was Craig Evans. It’s not the fault of the British justice system if you hit the accelerator instead of the brake and kill a pedestrian.

  47. David Atkins Says:
    October 4th, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    If you are a teacher and you are found with girls numbers’ (any students’ numbers)that you teach in your contacts then you would be sacked. He did well to get off.

  48. Charles Marsh Says:
    October 4th, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    @ Peter Harris
    With driving, you’re talking about an explicitly regulated activity. Whether it’s a driving licence, a firearms licence or even a rod licence there are formal requirements and a formal process to go through.
    If it’s that easy to accidentally send a message to everyone, you could argue that there’s a problem with the BlackBerry software. The judge didn’t conclude that the design of the product meant Evans must have acted knowingly, but something close to the opposite. If you accidentally accelerate and kill a pedestrian because of a problem with your car’s design, you’d hope not to be convicted of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving.
    I can only assume the conviction amounts to ‘reckless use of a mobile phone.’

  49. Aitch Says:
    October 5th, 2012 at 4:13 am

    Has anyone thought that perhaps he intended to send it to one of the girls, not his girlfriend, but hit the wrong button and everyone was let in on thr secret.

  50. Stu Says:
    October 8th, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    Or, has anyone thought his Girlfriend was also under age?

  51. Woodface Says:
    October 9th, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Barry Collins – surely the best source in a case like this is the barrister who acted for Evans in court?

    Sharon Bahia’s contact details are all on her page at the website. Also, the CPS might be prepared to explain their case. They will doubtless feel their side has not been well reported.

    Reading the press reports, I have my own theory of why he was not cleared at either trial.

    His defence was that the messages were sent to a recipient who was never named. This may have left the prosecution (and jurors) free to infer that the girls WERE the intended recipients, and there never was a legitimate ‘girlfriend’ recipient.

    Just a theory, but forensic examination of the Blackberry logs might have shown if there ever was an unknown recipient.

    It might also explain why he appealed the sentence, not the conviction.

  52. J Wilson Says:
    October 10th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Its a lesson to basically be careful – never put anything in an email or text you wouldnt be comfortable with anyone reading. the case that really concerns me though is the teenager in Dundee who posted “lets have a riot in Dundee” on Facebook during the height of the riots. It never happened and no doubt just a silly teenager but would you believe he got 4 years in jail – it is a disgrace as prior to that there was never any news of people being convicted from using Social media so he probably had no idea it was a crime. I would really hope that he is cleared by some sensible judge somewhere.


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