February 2017

Sex offender’s use of WhatsApp ‘alias’ leads to courtroom puzzle

A judge has questioned how a sex offender has breached the terms of a court order – by using WhatsApp.

Elliott Hills, 26, denied the offence – claiming there’s nothing that banned him from using the messaging app.

Hills signs the sex offenders register, but no explanation on why was given at a Teesside Magistrates’ Court hearing and no previous convictions were read to the court.

He has been charged with failing to comply with an order, on July 26 last year at Guisborough, by not supplying the police with details of an alias that he used.

That alias referred to the use of the term ‘Ells’ on WhatsApp, a mobile messaging service which allows users to send text messages, pictures and videos.

But his defence solicitor has argued that WhatsApp doesn’t use aliases or screen names – as messages can only be sent if both parties have each other’s mobile phone number.

The prosecution disagree, and the court heard that Hills, of Stakesby Close, Guisborough, admitted the breach in a police interview.

Prosecutor Alan Davison said that Hills’ order bans him from creating aliases or usernames online, and that Hills had conversations with women using the app.

But his solicitor, Craig Bartram, told the court that he had felt “pressured” during the interview, and had since checked the terms of his order which he believed prove he hasn’t done anything wrong.

And referring to the alleged breach, Mr Bartram continued: “The ‘alias’ is simply a shortened version of his own name.

“It is an app that he needs to use his own name, and he needs to put his own mobile number into it. If he was using another name that would make a difference.”

And Judge Kristina Harrison asked for more information from the prosecution about the exact nature of the alleged crime, telling Mr Davison: “I don’t know how we can proceed without it.”

She continued: “As far as I’m aware, WhatsApp uses your mobile phone number. The name that someone else will see will just be whatever they have saved that number as in their contacts book on the phone.”

Hills was granted unconditional bail until his next court appearance on March 17, but Judge Harrison has not fixed a formal trial date.

He had pleaded not guilty to a failure to comply with the notification requirements of the sex offenders register.

 

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