Irby man sentenced for sending malicious emails after Bristol statue toppled

A 72-year-old man from Irby has been sentenced for sending abusive messages to the Mayor of Bristol after protestors removed the statue of Edward Colston in the city in June last year.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that Fleetwood Spence, who lives in Irby, Wirral, sent six abusive emails to the office of Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees on 8 June 2020, the day after the statue was pulled down in Bristol city centre.

The statue of Edward Colston – who made his money in the 1700s from the slave trade – was pulled down by protestors during a protest as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bristol Mayor, Mr Rees, said at the time that he could not condone criminal damage but that the statue was an affront to him as a mixed-race man and that he did not regret its demise.

Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, and the Colston Statue.
Statue image credit: By John Cassidy – Self-photographed by Simon Cobb, 24 June 2019, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80038516
Mayor Marvin Rees image credit: By Rwendland – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52440566

On Monday 8 June 2020, six emails were sent to the Mayor’s Office from various Guerilla Mail addresses.

Guerilla Mail is set up as an anonymous way of communicating and provides a different email address for each email sent. The emails were abusive, aggressive and threatened violence to those who supported the removal of the statue.

The matter was reported to Avon and Somerset Police who made enquiries and discovered that all six emails were received from the same IP address.

On Wednesday 12 August 2020, officers from Merseyside Police went to Mr Spence’s home and asked him about the emails. When he was shown them, he said he didn’t think they were offensive.

He was interviewed at Birkenhead Police station on 20 August and admitted he had sent the emails and that he felt embarrassed about them. He admitted he had been drinking when he sent them and said he feared the protestors would go on to damage statues of the wartime leader Winston Churchill.

On 11 January 2021, at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, Mr Spence pleaded guilty to sending malicious communications and was given a curfew that states he must not leave the house between 7pm and 7am for the next 24 weeks. He must pay £85 costs and a victim surcharge of £95.

Associate Prosecutor Andrew Page of CPS Mersey-Cheshire said, “The emails Mr Spence sent on that night were grossly offensive and very aggressive.

“The fact that he had been drinking when he sent them is irrelevant. He sent them to a public official who was in no way condoning what had happened in Bristol the day before.

“Mr Spence is clearly embarrassed at what he did on that night and pleaded guilty to the offence. People sometimes think they can write what they want to others, on their devices behind closed doors.

“But there are laws to protect the public from malicious and offensive communications and, on that night, Mr Spence crossed the line into criminality and he has paid the price. I hope this case is a lesson to others who take to their keyboards to spread offence and upset.”

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