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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2008, 20:25 GMT

Man cleared of Facebook stalking

Facebook page
Mr Hurst had sent his ex-girlfriend a "friend request"

A man has been cleared of harassing his ex-girlfriend on the social networking site Facebook, in what is thought to be the first trial of its kind in the UK.

Michael Hurst, 34, of Edgbaston, Birmingham, was accused of contacting Sophie Sladden, also of Edgbaston, via Facebook on 21 January.

The carpenter admitted sending a "friend request" after clicking on his ex's profile "out of curiosity".

The city's magistrates advised him not to contact Ms Sladden again.

Mr Hurst had told the court he had joined Facebook to see a friend's photos of an office party.

Felt 'scared'

He denied trying to intimidate Ms Sladden and told magistrates he did not believe that being "Facebook friends" was "friendship in the traditional sense".

He said: "(Radio DJ) Chris Moyles has one-and-a-half million Facebook friends, do you think he knows them all intimately?"

Ms Sladden, who had since changed the privacy settings on her Facebook profile, said she felt harassed by the friend request.

She said: "It made me feel scared. It made me feel frightened, it made me feel insecure.

"It was unwanted attention which I don't think any person should go through."

Magistrates also heard that Mr Hurst, who had previously received a police caution for harassing Ms Sladden, ordered a book to be delivered to her workplace.

'Deserved a life'

Ms Sladden said this had left her "very, very upset", adding: "It was an invasion of my life. I wanted to get on with my life.

"I deserve to have a life which isn't overshadowed by an ex-partner's actions."

Mr Hurst had said the book, On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan was intended as a "kind and generous" gesture as the book had "resonances with the relationship that Sophie and I had had".

Mrs Catherine Taylor, chairing the bench, said: "We believe that in sending a book that you ought to have known that this was a course of action that could be construed as harassment by the considered party.

"We are of the view that the Facebook incident has not been proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt.

"We have therefore dismissed the charge."

She added: "I suggest that you refrain from making any contact with Ms Sladden in the future."

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