A Storm in a Tea Cup

Stephen Irvine, 26 April 2012

Having spent many a recent night sleepless and cowering in fear under my blanket, the slightest hint of a snore or any kind of disturbance answered ten-fold with elbow, fist or knee by my beloved lady-friend, I realised this weekend that it was high time I started to fight back. Tired of being a trembling chicken but not really having the stomach to join my local boxing club, I decided the easiest way to earn some respect would be to start my own Facebook group; a rallying call to my fellow weaklings to fight back against the terror of being beaten and bullied by a 5ft female.

After opting to call the page ‘Ho, you’ve struck your last blow,’ I was somewhat disappointed to find that it only had one ‘like’ – my own – and that the only comment was from Mother telling me to stop being so silly. It seemed I had grossly misread the situation, with my assumption that social media’s influence was all-powerful and the most effective rabble-rousing tool in today’s society apparently well wide of the mark.

It was therefore with some surprise and perhaps even a little jealousy that I read of the stir caused by a page set up by Liam Allan, a 19 year-old from Dundee whose content was so provocative that he recently ended up pleading guilty to a charge of breaching the peace. Fiscal depute Donna Davidson told Dundee Sheriff Court the shocking details: “On August 9 Tayside Police received a telephone call reporting someone had observed the Facebook page entitled City Centre Riot. As a result a major incident room was set up to respond to the threat of rioting in Dundee.”

Like a modern day William Wallace, Allan’s Facebook page called for his comrades to wade into battle against shop windows “suited and booted, crowbars, baseball bats, the lot” to show the English “we are better rioters than them tea sippers.”  According to the BBC, Allan later told police “it was a joke” and that it was not meant to be taken literally, but it was too late – the incident room had been set up and Tayside’s finest were hard at work, plunged into combat against the benign influence of this tough-looking, tough-talking menace to society.

In his defence, Allan’s solicitor Mr Doug McConnell described him as “a young man with no previous convictions,” something that was surely obvious to all given the silly, childish nature of his indiscretion, and it looks like a mix of small-town boredom and boyish bravado will result in this poor lad paying the heaviest of prices, with Sheriff George Way telling the court that a “very lengthy custodial sentence is inevitable.”

Is this really someone who needs to be incarcerated and institutionalised at such a tender age, all for committing such a silly (and ultimately victimless) crime? I would strongly argue in the negative, and all you can really see coming from it is the metamorphosis of an immature fool into an actual criminal after a couple of years’ porridge.

As an interesting contrast, the Council of Circuit Judges last year responded to a consultation on the proposals for a 50 per cent sentence discount for sex offenders who promptly plead guilty. Paragraph 61 of their response states that “a sex offender who admits rape faces a starting point of 5 years in custody” before concluding that under these proposals, it would be possible that “release on licence would occur after 15 months.” That’s a pretty sickening thought for all victims of sexual crime, or anyone with some decency in them in fact, and I’m sure it is also pretty upsetting for Allan and his family as he prepares to face the harshest of punishment for his silliness.

That’s all for now anyway, I have a Facebook page to take down urgently before the fuzz get wind of it – and my lady companion more importantly – I’ve already upset her by asking her to let me have the decent pillow for once, and I don’t think my ribs are up to another thrashing…