Edward John Chandler was cleared on appeal of exposing himself to two women in Wickham, England. They identified him from gossip on Facebook. Wickham is a small village of about 4,300 people 80 miles southwest of London.
On the evening of July 28, 2016 two women had drinks at the Five Bells Pub in Wickham. When they left they were walking through a school playground when they encountered a man who propositioned them. When they declined, he exposed himself to the women and followed one to her house. He left after she warned him she had a large and aggressive dog.
The women didn’t recognize the man or immediately report the incident to the police.
What happened to the women became a matter of Facebook gossip by people in Wickham. There was chatter from the women’s description of the flasher that it could be a local butcher’s assistant named Edward Chandler. His picture was shared on Facebook with the two woman.
The Facebooking resulted in the incident being reported to the police. The 21-year-old Chandler was taken into custody as a suspect.
During an identity parade — a live line-up — both women identified Chandler as the flasher. He was charged with indecent exposure.
Chandler denied the charge and claimed he was mistakenly identified.
The prosecution’s case during Chandler’s two-day trial in early August 2017 was based on the testimony of the two victims. They both testified they didn’t know who accosted them until they saw the chatter on Facebook it could be Chandler, and they saw his picture. They said they identified him during the identity parade because he had “creepy eyes” like the man they encountered in the park. They didn’t recognize anything else about him.
Chandler denied he was the flasher, and his lawyer challenged the reliability of the woman’s identification of him during the identity parade: On Facebook they had been exposed to rampant speculation he was the flasher and his picture. His lawyer argued the two women picked him because he was the only person in the lineup whose face they were familiar with.
The panel of magistrate’s decided the “She and she said. He said” case by finding Chandler guilty.
Chandler was sentenced on August 10, 2017 to 12 months community service; 35 days rehabilitation; payment of US$325 (£250) prosecution costs and US$119 (£85) statutory victim services surcharge; and five years registration on the Sex Offenders Register.*
His lawyer Genevieve Reed argued his accuser’s identification of him was unreliable because it was influenced by the “chain of Facebook exchanges” suggesting he was the flasher, and that they saw his picture online linked to the gossip. Reed asserted: “This circumvented all of the safeguards of (the Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984) and fundamentally undermined the identification process.” She also argued that Chandler had come under scrutiny on Facebook “merely because he’s a loner who wanders round the village.”
The Crown Prosecution Service opposed Chandler’s appeal. The CPS argued Chandler received a fair trial because: “This is a small village and inevitably there will be gossip if someone is flashing at young women. Such gossip is difficult to prevent and it’s not unusual. Telling one person means the whole community knows it.”
On September 27, 2017 Crown Court Judge Simon Oliver quashed Chandler’s conviction on the basis of insufficient prosecution evidence. Chandler’s identification by the two witnesses was unreliable because of their exposure to his picture in the Facebook exchanges during which the witnesses where told, “This is who you’re looking for.”
After Chandler’s conviction was quashed, Jeremy Wright, the Attorney General for England and Wales commented to the media: “Every defendant in this country is entitled to a fair trial where a verdict is delivered based on the evidence heard in court. Our contempt of court laws are designed to prevent trial by media. However, are they able to protect against trials by social media?”
* On August 10, 2017 the exchange rate was US$1.297608 to 1 British pound.