The Countryside Alliance (CA) has welcomed new guidelines published by the Crown Prosecution Service aimed at tackling online abuse, harassment and intimidation via social media.

Earlier this month, director of public prosecutions Alison Saunders announced: “Social media can be used to educate, entertain and enlighten but there are also people who use it to bully, intimidate and harass.

“Ignorance is not a defence and perceived anonymity is not an escape. Those who commit these acts, or encourage others to do the same, can and will be prosecuted,” she said.

Commenting on the recent acquittal of a huntsman following a collision with a hunt saboteur, CA chief executive Tim Bonner said: “Last month, Mark Doggrell and his family were subject to a campaign of harassment and abuse following his acquittal by a jury at Taunton Crown Court. His private address and wife’s telephone number were published by the Save the Cull website and Facebook page (operated by Jay Tiernan). It is wrong that the individuals involved were able to hide behind anonymity.

“Over the past few years there have been a growing number of cases of individuals being harassed and abused online. Very rarely has any action been taken against the perpetrators of this abuse.

“It is vital that these guidelines lead to a move towards justice being served.”

Antis using social media to harass anonymously

Mr Bonner continued: “Online abuse via social media is one of the fastest-growing and complex areas of criminal law and the guidelines are useful in helping the public understand when a prosecution may be brought.

“However, for these new guidelines to have any effect it is vital that they have teeth. Many of the most hardened and experienced activists find ways to beat the system by operating anonymously.

“I was reassured that the director of public prosecutions paid reference to this in her comments,” he added.