Men cleared over 'joke' Facebook looting post during riots

A jury has cleared two men of encouraging looting or rioting via Facebook messages during last August's civil disturbances.

Karl Manley, 28, from Lancaster, wrote "PC World Lancaster, 7.30pm. Let the looting begin. Could do with a new laptop" on Facebook on 9 August.

Stefan Johnson, of Heysham, posted the same message on his Facebook status.

The two men, who told the jury the messages were meant as a joke, were acquitted at Lancaster Crown Court.

'Jokes and banter'

Police officers went to the store after the message was posted on the social networking site by Mr Manley but no incidents took place, the court heard.

The jury took 30 minutes to clear the pair.

Following the verdicts, Judge Heather Lloyd told the defendants she had "absolutely no quarrel" with the jury's findings but branded the pair "idiots".

She told them: "Your behaviour was criminally irresponsible and reprehensible. It cost a great deal of time and resources to deal with the matter.

"I hope that it is never repeated again."

Giving evidence, Mr Manley said: "At the time on Facebook there was loads of jokes going around and banter.

"Looking back now it was a mistake. I generally just thought of it as a bit of a joke amongst my friends."

'Innocent guy'

Mr Johnson, a data processor, replied to Mr Manley's post: "That is brilliant. Sorry but I am going to have nick that status!"

He told the jury: "I thought it was funny because Karl Manley is an innocent guy. It was just a sarcastic joke."

Outside court, Mr Manley said he was glad it was "all over".

Mr Johnson gave no comment.

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