Facebook row over Meagher comments

Mon, Oct 1, 2012, 01:00

Facebook has refused an Australian police request to remove a web page containing potentially prejudicial comments about the man accused of murdering Irish woman Jill Meagher.

Ms Meagher's funeral will be held in Melbourne on Friday. A public memorial service will be held in in St Peter’s Church on West Street in Drogheda on the same day.

Her remains will be cremated and the ashes will be brought to her parents' home in Perth, Western Australia.

A book of condolences was opened at the Tholsel in Drogheda this morning.

Following Ms Meagher’s disappearance in the early hours of September 22nd, a Facebook page set up to find her soon attracted more than 120,000 supporters. Though the police initially praised the role social media such as Facebook and Twitter played in the case, they are now concerned that any forthcoming trial could be prejudiced.

Adrian Ernest Bayley (41) has been charged with raping and murdering Ms Meagher and will face court in January.

Victoria Police chief commissioner Ken Lay is seeking legal advice over Facebook’s refusal to remove the page.

“Though social media’s been enormously helpful in this investigation, it’s also been very, very difficult and we had cause to speak to Facebook over the weekend and ask them to take a particular site down,” he said.

“Now, they’ve refused to do that. We’ve all got a social responsibility. Facebook is part of our community and I would have thought that it would have only been reasonable.

“When you see the hatred that’s incited by some of these sites, it is very much the antithesis of what we saw yesterday with 30,000 people taking to the streets saying let’s try and make this a safer and fairer community.”

Facebook has so far not commented on the matter, but has posted a police notice warning people to consider what they are writing on the website.

Ms Meagher’s husband Tom has also urged people to be cautious about what they say online.

Mr Lay said some of comments posted could jeopardise the case.

“We’ve got to remember that no matter how horrible this crime is, this gentleman has got to be afforded a fair trial. It’s not for Facebook pages or anyone else to be taking justice into their own hands,” he said.

Victoria’s state premier Ted Baillieu is considering asking the Victorian Law Reform Commission to review whether legislative change is needed.

“In many ways social media is a recording of conversations that occur and perhaps traditionally occurred in pubs and clubs, in social venues. It has moved from undefinable gossip into almost resourced gossip, and it does have an impact,” Mr Baillieu told ABC radio.

Prison officers have also been warned not to use social media to express their views about Ms Meagher’s death after posts were found on Facebook.

Melbourne media have reported Mr Bayley is being given the highest level of protection in jail amid fears he will be attacked or killed by other inmates.

In Melbourne, the authorities have removed dozens of tributes to Ms Meagher from an impromptu shrine at the Sydney Road shop where she was last seen alive.

“Due to the overwhelming number of floral tributes placed in memory of Jill on Sydney Road, Brunswick it has been necessary to move them to avoid them obstructing the local area,” Victoria Police said in a statement. “Police have consulted with the family and moved them to a location of their choice. They have not been destroyed and all the cards have been collected and provided to Jill’s family.”

People have been asked to leave any further tributes to Ms Meagher at the nearby Baptist Church on Sydney Road.

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