A cycling journalist reported to the police after saying on Twitter that a Telegraph journalist should be “taken out and shot” has described the matter as “bizarre”.
But the Telegraph's Andrew Critchlow has defended his decision to report John Stevenson's Twitter message to the police, saying that he only did so because his efforts to resolve the issue discreetly by contacting Stevenson's website were ignored.
The row started with a blog written by Critchlow, who is a keen cyclist as well as the Telegraph’s business news editor, about cycling “vigilantes” who carry cameras and report other road users to the police.
Stevenson, editor of large of the cycling website Road.CC, responded to the piece by saying on Twitter: “Can someone please just have Andrew Critchlow taken out and shot? Thx.”
It was later followed up by him with a Twitter message directed @baldersdale (Critchlow’s Twitter name) calling him a “f***king c***”.
Critchlow raised the matter with Road.cc to see if he could get the Tweet taken down. But no action was taken and more Tweets ensued, with one noting that Stevenson had “pissed off the Torygraph”.
Critchlow reported the Twitter message in question to Twitter UK and it took the decision to suspend Stevenson’s account. Critchlow also reported the matter to the Metropolitan Police.
The intial Stevenson Twitter message was followed by hundreds more ‘trolling’ Twitter messages from other users targeted at Critchlow, and he said that he genuinely felt that someone might harm him.
He told the Telegraph that the reference to him being “taken out and shot” disturbed him particularly because he is a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland and he was once involved in an operation when one of his friends was killed by an IRA sniper.
But Stevenson told Press Gazette: “At heart, this is two journalists having a very strong disagreement. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that journalists swearing and name-calling each other is not news. If it were, the papers would be full of nothing else.”
That Critchlow was portraying himself as a “victim” was “rather bizarre behaviour”, Stevenson said.
He said: "The key point is that nobody with the working understanding of the English language necessary to be a journalist would see a reference to someone being ‘taken out and shot’ as a threat.
"Here's Mr Critchlow's Telegraph colleague James Delingpole on why the phrase should not be taken seriously:
"For at least the last fifty years 'they should be taken out and shot', has been a socially acceptable, perfectly unexceptionable way of expressing colourfully and vehemently one's distaste towards a particular category of unpleasantness"
"I can't express any better than that my intention with that tweet."
He added: "When he initially contacted me Mr Critchlow was invited to email me via the main road.cc editorial email address. Had he done that we might have been able to resolve this. It's entirely incorrect, then, that his complaints went unheeded – he was told how to contact me, and did not do so."
In a blog post written over the weekend Critchlow said: "Critics have said that by doing this I have wasted valuable police time and that instead I should simply 'man up'. But surely any behaviour, or language that is perceived by the recipient to be violently threatening and abusive is exactly what the police should be investigating as more of our public discourse and interaction shifts online.
"If not, then are we prepared to stand by and allow the internet to become some virtual zone of anarchy where the law no longer applies?
"I hope others will follow my example and use the law to stand up to cyber bullies."