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  1. ITV Report

In the dock: Online troll who made anti-Muslims comments

Dad-of-seven Stephen Bennett, 39, made inflammatory remarks on Greater Manchester Police’s Facebook page Photo: MEN Syndication

An online troll ended up in the dock after posting comments ‘grossly offensive’ to Muslims on a police website.

Dad-of-seven Stephen Bennett, 39, made inflammatory remarks on Greater Manchester Police’s Facebook page, in response to an appeal for information in a sex case with an Asian suspect.

One comment he made concerned Asian women, another was likely to be offensive to Muslims.

Dad-of-seven Stephen Bennett, 39, made inflammatory remarks on Greater Manchester Police’s Facebook page Credit: MEN Syndication

Bennett, of Wythenshawe, also wrote:

Don’t come over to this country and treat it like your own. Britain first.

– Stephen Bennett

He made the comments despite his mother-in-law and sister-in-law being Muslims, his lawyer told the court.

The response sparked outrage from Facebook users who feared his remarks would set people against each other.

When Bennett was arrested by officers in an 8am house call, he said:

Is this about that Muslim thing on Facebook? I’m getting locked up for sticking up for my own country.

– Stephen Bennett

Bennett later admitted an offence under the Malicious Communications Act.His Manchester Crown Court sentencing hearing was told that he was a dad-of-seven who was finding it ‘difficult to cope’ at the time because of the loss of his job, but was now back in work as a cleaner.

His lawyer added that his mother-in-law and sister-in-law were Muslims, and that he was not racist.

But web users who read his posts felt his remarks would fuel tensions. One Muslim witness told police he was concerned the ‘irresponsible’ comments would ‘incite hatred’ and be a ‘potential tool for radicalisation’. Another Muslim personally offended by the remarks challenged Bennett online, telling him ‘act your age’.

People in the wider community were also offended, prosecutor Gavin Howie told court, with one female Facebook user describing his remarks as ‘offensive to all women’.

Mr Bennett’s lawyer, Andrew Higginson, said his actions were ‘difficult to explain’, adding:

There’s more to him than what one sees on Facebook.

It’s a sad indictment of the state of our social and political discourse that whilst one is shocked, one is not particularly surprised comments like this are posted.

It’s increasingly common for comments posted on social media to be featured in criminal cases. These platforms provide an amount of anonymity. People can say things they wouldn’t dream of saying face to face.

His mother-in-law and sister-in-law are Muslims, he gets on with them very well. He has insisted he does not have racist sympathies, he struggles to explain it.

It may be that the more people are exposed to offensive opinions, the more they are normalised to people who then feel it’s acceptable for them to post them.

– Mr Bennett’s lawyer, Andrew Higginson

Sentencing, Recorder Andrew Long told Bennett he found it ‘impossible to believe’ he would have posted the ‘grossly offensive’ comments unless he was ‘at least a sympathiser’ with those who expressed such views.

The judge said ‘running the risk of stirring up racial hatred in the present climate’, was ‘very serious’ describing it as ‘conduct capable of playing into the hands of the enemies of this country’.

Sentencing him to a 12-month community order, with 180 hours’ unpaid work, the judge added:

Your remarks damaged the community in which you live, and it’s the community that you must repay.

– Recorder Andrew Long