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February 15, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:01am

Man jailed after threatening to shoot journalist in Facebook messages

By Charlotte Tobitt

A man has been jailed for almost six months after sending Facebook messages threatening to shoot a regional journalist.

Peter Cunliffe, 50, has also been handed a two-year restraining order preventing him from contacting Amy Fenton.

Cunliffe, of Sandylands Promenade in Morecambe, sent the messages threatening to shoot Fenton in June when she was still chief reporter at Newsquest daily The Mail in Cumbria.

Claims had surfaced online that a woman had been abused by an Asian grooming gang and the paper reported that Cumbria Police had found “no evidence” of any such gang operating in Barrow.

A woman was charged with seven counts – since increased to eight – of perverting the course of justice over false allegations of rape.

The paper’s journalists, including an apprentice, were flooded with abuse in response to their reporting of these facts.

Fenton was the worst hit and was first given police protection and then forced to flee her home with her young daughter.

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Cunliffe pleaded guilty to six counts of sending by public communication (Facebook) an offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message on Tuesday at Barrow-in-Furness Magistrates’ Court. The charges related to Fenton and two other victims.

He was given a total of 22 weeks in custody, ordered to pay three lots of £200 compensation, and issued with a two-year restraining order stopping him from contacting Fenton directly or indirectly and from using her name on social media.

Fenton tweeted: “The sentence and restraining order is welcome; glad it’s now been concluded.”

Cunliffe is the second man in just under a year to be jailed for abusing Fenton on Facebook.

Leroy McCarthy, 25, of Osborne Road in Salford, was jailed for five months after admitting writing a threatening email of a sexual nature followed by three laughter emojis, under a Facebook post from the official Mail page correcting the name of a man convicted of rape in a previous report.

She said at the time she hoped her 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”.

The journalist mentioned the threats in mitigation in her own court proceedings last year after she was caught behind the wheel while under the influence of cocaine.

She was tearful as she told the court the situation had “all escalated because of a recent case I have reported on involving a woman who was charged with perverting the course of justice [accused of] making false allegations of rape against five men”. She added that the situation was “very high stress”.

Fenton has now returned to her home county of Lancashire and is working on a freelance basis for Reach.

[Read more: Owen Jones talks about online abuse of journalists and living with ‘constant threat of far-right violence’]

Picture: Amy Fenton

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