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Get tough on prisoners posting on social media from behind bars - Ipswich MP Tom Hunt

PUBLISHED: 18:04 23 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:04 23 July 2020

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt spoke about social media use in prisons during a parliamentary debate. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt spoke about social media use in prisons during a parliamentary debate. Picture: HOUSE OF COMMONS

Archant

On Wednesday evening parliament broke for the summer recess and we won’t be sitting again until September. Except for a short break to recharge the batteries after what has been a hectic period since my election back in December, I will be spending all of my time in Ipswich and using it as an opportunity to get out in the town and meet as many people as possible.

Kyreis Davies posted on Snapchat Picture: Suffolk PoliceKyreis Davies posted on Snapchat Picture: Suffolk Police

On Wednesday though I was able to make one more speech before the recess in a general debate called “Matters to be raised before the forthcoming adjournment”. These debates are a bit like a wash-up where MPs can raise any issue they choose. They’re an important opportunity to take stock of what has happened and to look ahead to what can be done in the future.

There are many campaigns and issues which would have been appropriate to raise during this debate. But following another social media post from inside prison this month by one of the men convicted for the brutal killing of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in Ipswich in 2018, I felt this was an issue which had to be brought directly to the government’s attention again.

I say again because a number of these cases have come to light since my election and each time I have taken action to try to bring those responsible to book and put a stop to what is a particularly pernicious form of crime.

These social media posts are often used by convicted criminals to brag openly about how they are continuing to break our laws even when they are behind bars, and how they’re still enjoying freedoms which should have been taken away from them.

Callum Plaats was cleared of murder by convicted of manslaughter  Picture: Suffolk PoliceCallum Plaats was cleared of murder by convicted of manslaughter Picture: Suffolk Police

These posts display a lack of respect for our criminal justice system, but even worse than that they show a complete contempt for the victims of their crimes and their loved ones.

No victim or their family should have to live with the fear and anxiety that the perpetrator might show their face on social media or even use it to contact them. And these cruel social media posts by prisoners often feel like an attempt to taunt the people who already have to live with the consequences of their crimes.

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It’s now my understanding that all five of the men sent to prison for Tavis’s death have posted on social media from behind bars. And I think most of us can only imagine the additional pain these posts will have caused Tavis’s family as they try to find some kind of peace after all they’ve been through. Not only are these social media posts despicable but it’s also clear that they are far too common.

I first raised this issue after a Facebook post in January 
by Callum Plaats who was convicted of Tavis’s manslaughter. Plaats posted a picture of himself from inside prison grinning with the caption “Five years left lightwork”. Five years being the remaining amount of time he expects to spend in prison if he only serves half his sentence. I called in parliament at the time for Plaats to serve out his full sentence as a result of his actions on social media and I still think that this is no less than he deserves for continuing to cause harm from behind the prison walls.

After Plaats’s Facebook post, I met the prisons minister to raise this case directly. And I received reassurances that a system for punishing those responsible is in place, and that an extra £100 million is being invested in more technology and resources to detect mobile phones in prison and to stop them getting in in the first place.

Since then though, two of the men convicted for Tavis’s murder have posted on social media, raising further concerns that there’s a lot more work left to be done to stamp out this criminal behaviour.

In April, Aristote Yenge posted on Instagram calling for people in the community to get in contact with him. To facilitate this, Yenge brazenly included in the post his name, location and prisoner number, suggesting he felt like he could post with impunity. After this post came to my attention, I asked representatives at Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, to take down his account, which they swiftly did. And I wrote to the Prison Service calling for an immediate investigation. Unfortunately, despite the content of the post being almost an admission of guilt in itself, the prison authorities were unable to find the device Yenge used and therefore couldn’t take the case forward.

And as I said in my speech on Wednesday, the latest post this month was made by Kyreis Davies who put a photo of himself up on Snapchat, arms crossed and posing with another inmate. This latest act of criminality by Davies is particularly insulting after the Court of Appeal’s lenient and out of touch decision to reduce his sentence for murder from a minimum of 21 years to just 16 years. I believe his activity on social media from behind bars will only add to the disbelief and confusion of many in our community, about why he will now be released a free man in his early 30s.

It’s clear from these latest cases that the punishment system currently in place for social media use in prison is just not robust enough to deter these offences from continuing to happen. When I looked further into the current punishment system through a written parliamentary question, I was informed that those found using social media could face punishments of up to two years’ further imprisonment. I would like to know how many of those found guilty actually receive the maximum sentence.

I believe that if it was the norm that social media use by prisoners resulted in additional years being added to their sentence, then it would send a clear message that their sick attempts to communicate online will not be tolerated. And it would make others think twice before doing the same thing.

I called on Wednesday for the government to come down much harder on criminals who continue to cause pain and anguish for victims, their families and our community even after they’ve been locked up. And the campaign to eliminate social media use in prisons does not end with this recess. I’ll keep fighting over the coming months to put our justice system on the side of those it’s there to protect.


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