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When gossip could land you in jail

PRINCE HARRY? Your next door neighbour? A work colleague? There’s nothing more fun than a good gossip, is there? Whether it’s finding out the latest secrets or spreading the news, it’s a favourite passtime in the community. Where’s the harm?

The harm is that you could be breaking the law by discussing matters under police investigation or by spreading information which is not true – and that could land you with a hefty fine – or even a jail sentence. Read on.

There’s no harm in expressing opinions: love him or laugh at him, Prince Harry is fair game and we can all share our opinions about him – but we cannot introduce a deliberate lie. We can say he is a hero or we can say he is a twerp: that is subjective opinion. We can say that he killed people in Afghanistan when he was on military service, because he has said so himself, in writing, and we can prove it.

What we can’t say is that Harry physically attacked a woman we know or that he chatted with that woman and promised to divorce his wife and marry her instead – because we know those allegations are not true. And we know Megan would have anyone found saying such things in Court before you could say “spare”. Put your allegations on social media, and you will be in really serious trouble: the size of the audience who hear or see your allegations is taken into account when a case is heard and when damages are assessed.

Let’s stress that we do not believe that Harry has attacked any women and has never promised any woman he will end his current happy marriage to marry anyone else! Not making allegations that you cannot prove is very sound advice. We can all be tempted to wind up someone we are upset with by spreading rumours about them. Getting our own back might make us feel good, and powerful, for a short while, but we would not look so clever if we had to face a High Court Judge who was asking us for our evidence!

It gets even more complicated if you are talking about something in which the police are involved. Talking about an issue in which someone has been arrested, even if they have not been charged, is classed as “sub judice” or “under the control of the judicial system”. If you are found to be spreading gossip about someone who has been arrested, you will guilty of “contempt of court” – even if a police investigation is continuing and they have not been charged. This is because such gossip or rumour-spreading is seen as attempting to interfere with any prosecution which may happen once the police have investigated.

In these circumstances, you would face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

UK jails are not the worst in the world, but spend some time in them and the consequences go on for a long time: you can’t get a visa to go to the USA; you can’t get security cleared to work with children or young people; you have to declare your conviction to any potential future employer. You may even lost custody of your own children.

So by all means have a good gossip – but steer clear of the kind of gossip that could land you in Court for defamation or contempt! Now, who do you think is going to win the next “Love Island”?

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