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February 28, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 8:59am

Local reporter hopes jailing of Facebook abuser shows journalists are not ‘fair game’

By Charlotte Tobitt

A man who wrote on Facebook that a local journalist “needs raping” has been jailed for five months.

Amy Fenton (pictured), chief reporter at The Mail in Barrow, reported Leroy McCarthy to police after seeing the post about her on 31 January and deciding “enough was enough”.

Fenton said she hoped McCarthy’s sentence would show other trolls that journalists are not “fair game” and encourage other reporters targeted by intimidation and harassment to “report anything which goes too far”.

The offending comment came below a post on the official Facebook page of The Mail correcting the name of a man convicted of rape in a previous report.

McCarthy wrote: “The Amy Fenton needs raping,” followed by three laughter emojis.

On Wednesday at Manchester Magistrates’ Court he was sentenced to 20 weeks in prison after the court said the offence was deemed serious because he was serving a suspended sentence for abusing police officers at the time.

The 25-year-old from Osborne Road, Salford, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of sending a message “which conveyed a threat for the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person…”.

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McCarthy, who has gone by the name Abdullah Mahmood since he converted to Islam, was also handed a restraining order banning him from contacting Fenton in any way for the next 12 months and told to pay her £61 in compensation.

The Newsquest journalist is now hoping the case will show other journalists what they can do to protect themselves against online abuse.

She said the prospect of being jailed for threatening a reporter “should act as a shot across the bows for any trolls or keyboard warriors who see us as ‘fair game’.”

In a statement, Fenton said: “For far too long reporters have been subjected to vile comments and threats simply for doing their job.

“No journalist is taught to expect this, or even warned about it, as part of any accredited qualification or course and yet this is something which is becoming increasingly – and alarmingly – common.

“But we shouldn’t have to expect this, nor should we be prepared to accept it.”

She added: “When I saw Leroy’s threat – and in the context of the persistent harassment I have had to endure, including that which has come from those I considered to be my closest friends, I decided that enough was enough.

“What he did strayed far beyond the criticism we might expect given the nature of our job.

“What he did was criminal and I have no doubt that countless other reporters have been subjected to equally criminal comments and threats and thought to themselves ‘this just comes with the territory’.

“This has got to stop. Something needs to be done to protect and preserve our ability to report on issues in the public interest, including court cases.”

Fenton said that for things to change, reporters “need to report to the police when we feel threatened, intimidated or frightened”.

“I just hope that my own experience helps to encourage other reporters to recognise when a line has been crossed and to give them the confidence to report anything which goes too far,” she added.

Picture: Amy Fenton

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