In the Media

Man who accused neighbour of being James Bulger killer spared jail

PUBLISHED January 11, 2012

Facebook message claiming he was Robert Thompson left victim terrified to leave the house for fear of vigilante attacks

A man who falsely accused his neighbour of being one of James Bulger's killers has been spared an immediate prison sentence.

Spencer Payne, 44, posted a Facebook message saying child killer Robert Thompson was living in a flat above him in Parsons Field, Dedham, Essex, following an ongoing row over a parking space.

Payne admitted sending an offensive electronic message at an earlier hearing at Colchester magistrates' court and had been warned he could face jail.

But today he was given a 12-week sentence suspended for a year. He must also carry out 120 hours of unpaid work and was made subject to a restraining order.

Prosecutor Sharon Hall told the court that victim Gregory Filby had been left terrified to leave the house and unable to sleep at night for fear of vigilante attacks.

The message gave the precise address and said: "Convicted paedophile Robert Thompson is living in hiding with his wife and baby in the flat upstairs."

Hall said an off-duty police officer saw the message and reported it. Payne agreed to delete it within 24 hours.

She added: "In a victim impact statement he said he feared for his wife and baby's safety. He was embarrassed to leave the house and was worried he might be stabbed or shot by somebody who believed the message."

Payne posted the message on 5 December after Filby asked him to turn his music down.

Hall said one online response, reading "these people should be named and shamed", suggested people had taken it seriously.

She added: "The victim was terrified because he did not know how many people had seen it. The police set up a rapid deployment system in case of any vigilante attacks.

"He didn't even want to go to the shops in case people had read the post and believed it. He was totally devastated and very scared."

Raif Piggot, in mitigation, said Payne suffered from schizophrenia.

He added: "He accepts his behaviour and the potential harm it could have caused was dreadful. This was a neighbourhood dispute which spiralled out of control. By its very nature, there must be two sides to any dispute."

Magistrate Linda McKenzie warned Payne that if he offended again or broke his restraining order by approaching the family he would face further punishment.

She added: "You have caused a great deal of upset to an entirely innocent man and his family."

Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, both 10 at the time, were jailed in 1993 for the kidnap and murder of two-year-old James Bulger in Bootle, near Liverpool.

Both have been given new identities since their release on life-long licence in 2001.

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