A staunch Brexiteer doctored an election leaflet from Labour candidate Ruth Smeeth by drawing a noose around her neck and scrawling threatening messages across it – before hand-delivering it to her office.
Zak Machin took the offensive leaflet to the Tunstall office while Ms Smeeth was campaigning for re-election in the run-up to last December’s General Election.
As well as the macabre drawing, he wrote messages including, ‘You should be hung’ [sic] and ‘You dirty pigs, you are going to cause a civil war’ on the pamphlet.
Shortly after the November incident, Ms Smeeth – who went on to lose her Stoke-on-Trent North seat in the election – spoke to StokeonTrentLive about how frequent threats left her worried for her safety and unable to go out alone.
Now 27-year-old Machin has been handed a suspended prison sentence after he admitted an offence under the Malicious Communications Act.
North Staffordshire Justice Centre heard Machin committed the offence because he was angry about Labour’s stance on Brexit.
Prosecutor Samina Rashid said: “This defendant received a campaign leaflet from the Labour Party. He defaced it by drawing a noose around the image of Ruth Smeeth and writing the words, ‘You should be hung’.
“There were several other comments throughout the campaign paper. It was hand-delivered by the defendant to Ms Smeeth’s office. Her chief-of-staff opened it and was alarmed by it. CCTV showed the defendant delivering it.”
In a statement read out in court, Ms Smeeth said: “This was the third incident in three months I had to report to the police. I found it offensive and I’m concerned about my personal safety.”
Machin, of The Boulevard, Tunstall, pleaded guilty to sending a communication conveying an offensive message for the purpose of causing distress of anxiety.
The offence put him in breach of a conditional discharge he received last March for growing his own cannabis.
Simon Leech, mitigating, said: “This happened when the furore around Brexit was at its height and emotions were high. What triggered Mr Machin’s behaviour is the fact the campaign leaflet came through his letter box. He responded in an ill-judged manner.
“Mr Machin was frustrated because he voted in the referendum for Brexit and he felt the approach adopted by his then MP was not consistent with the result of the referendum.
“He vented his feelings. It was not thought through. He is desperately ashamed of his behaviour.”
District Judge Timothy Boswell told Machin he had ‘crossed the line’ between free speech and malicious communication. The judge said: “This has to be put into context with not only the General Election but also what happened with the murder of (Labour MP) Jo Cox.
“It’s no surprise the victim of this offence was upset and fearful about what she had received. This sort of behaviour is totally unacceptable.”
Machin was handed a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months. As part of the order he must work with the Probation Service to address his behaviour.
He was fined £200 for breaching his previous conditional discharge, and must also pay £135 court costs and a £122 victim surcharge.
Speaking to StokeonTrentLive following Machin’s sentencing hearing, Ms Smeeth said: “I welcome the prosecution and thank the police and Crown Prosecution Service for their work.
“Abuse and threatening behaviour towards people who are just seeking to do a public service is completely unacceptable and I hope this sends out a message to any other people who think this is an appropriate way to engage with others.”