Can I tell you a secret?

It starts the same way... A seemingly innocent message from someone who appears to be a young woman: ‘Can I tell you a secret?’ But as this six-part podcast explores, people are rarely their true selves online – and one man took it much further. What happened when this cyberstalker wreaked havoc across the internet and ruined people’s lives. And why did he do it?Can I Tell You A Secret - a Guardian podcast series about obsession, fear, and the lives we lead online

Can I tell you a secret? Episode seven: an update

Can I tell you a secret? Episode seven: an update

Mon, 10 Oct 2022 17:16

Guardian producer Lucy Hough and reporter Matthew Weaver give an update on the outcome of Matthew Hardy’s appeal

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This is the Guardian. Last week on a bright, clear October morning, Guardian reported Matt Weaver headed down to the Royal Courts of Justice in London. It was the day of Matthew Hardy's court appeal. Locked on my bike went through security and into the court. As we mentioned in the series, Matthew was in the process of appealing that nine-year prison sentence for stalking and harassment that he was given back in January at Chester Crown Court. Towards the end of making the series that lead to appeal was granted, and a couple of weeks after the podcast came out, a hearing date was set. Matthew Hardy and his lawyer were hoping to see that nine-year sentence reduce to bring forward the date that he'll be able to walk out of prison. I'm series producer Lucy Half stepping into Sharon Shuse to bring you an update on this story. You're listening to Can I Tell You A Secret? Thank you so much for joining us. No problem. I caught up with Matt Weaver the day after the appeal. It's quite an odd setting for a case about cyber stalking and snapchat messages and Instagram and so on. This is the Royal Court's of Justice. It was a sort of, you know, oak panel room with three judges, appeal court judges in Wiggs and their clerk in a Wiggs. But apart from that, everything was being conducted by video link. Matthew Hardy himself appeared from jail on a video link. His lawyer was also there on another feed. A lawyer for the crown was on another feed. So it was sort of this sort of Victorian setting on the other and this is from our sort of 21st century setting, you know, being played out in front of them. While the judges, Guardian reporter Matt was the only other person in the courtroom that morning. There's a rail strike and everyone else is there virtually. I wanted to know how Matthew seemed to be doing on the video screen. I mean, it was set in front of a prison table with a page of notes that he looked down on quite a lot. He looked nervous. That's the sort of main thing that I was trying to think about. What's the best way to describe him in nervous and anxious? His immaturity was referred to in the courts a few times and he does look very young for a 31-year-old now. Apart from his forehead, he's got a very farrow brown which he kept scrunching up. The hearing began first with Matthew Hardy's barrister. Because Matthew pleaded guilty, he can't appeal his conviction. But his lawyer stood in appeal for the sentence to be reduced, describing the nine years that he was given as manifestly excessive. These arguments were on the grounds that the original judge hadn't sufficiently taken into account the fact that Matthew's autistic and has a learning disability. She may be argument again that his crimes shouldn't be classed as the most serious category one offending. After Hardy's lawyer did her bit, we then briefly heard from a lawyer for the crown who asked the appeal court whether he agreed with the original sentence unsurprisingly. He asked the judges, would you like me to go through the reasons why? They just cut him off and said no. He appeared for two minutes. At that point, the procedures were adjourned. The court rose, which in this case was just me in the court. They all went back behind the door and then appeared five minutes later with their verdict. And what was that verdict? It was delivered by Mrs Justice McGowan on behalf of the three of them. And she began by going through details of Hardy's offending and the impact on his victims. And I'm interested to know more about what she said about his offending. Yeah, I was quite surprised that given that this has already happened in another and in lower court, that she went through for about half an hour talking about Hardy's crimes and recounting them. She detailed the crimes against the victims who she referred to by initials. She went through in quite a lot of detail. The first one she mentioned she referred to by the initials JEC. She said that Hardy initially contacted via a fake Instagram account asking her if she could keep a secret. Then she said it became more persistent and sinister in her words. And on one particular evening, JEC received 72 telephone calls from an unidentified number. When the phone was answered, the line would go silent and she would hear someone breathing in the background. Well, I'm guessing from that is that there was a lot of reiterating of the severity of his crimes, which is something that the judge in the original ruling, of course, did as well. Does that strike you in any way as being unusual? Yeah, I just usually, in a court of appeal, thing is all just points of law. And this one was very much more about the impact on the victims, which is very odd for a appeal court judge to be going into. After recounting the details, the judge started to deliver the verdict. First of all, the judge went through a rejected, various arguments presented by Matthew Hardy's lawyer. She said the original judge had taken into account Hardy's mental difficulties and disagreed over the seriousness of his crimes, describing them both as planned and premeditated. But she also did say, what she did say is that for two of his stalking offenses, the starting point in the sentence was too high in the original verdict and should be brought down. On another count, there was a question of a legal technicality, a change of the law in April 2017, when the maximum term for stalking offenses was increased from five to ten years, the judge accepted on that point that they'd been an oversight. And accordingly, the judge reduced the total sentence from nine years to eight years. Eight years is still a really significant sentence for stalking, but it's also one year less that Matthew will be spending behind bars, and it means he could be coming out by 2025. His lawyers might have been hoping for longer, but in technical terms, they've won the appeal, even if by a small margin. What's your reaction to that? And what was the reaction in the courtroom as that came down? The judge rattle through this, the revised sentence quite quickly at the end of a summary statement. At that point, they retired, the clerk of the court stood up and addressing, hardy says, your sentence now is eight years. Your challenge has been successful. I'm sure that didn't feel successful to him and his lawyer, just a one year reduction. When it was, I was looking at him carefully, when that was read out, he showed no particular reaction, quite a cliche of kind of court reporting that the offender showed no reaction, but they were really, he didn't. He just got up from his prison table and left. Right. Well, Matt, thank you so much. Pleasure, it's an interesting case. So Matthew's back in his cell in the category B prison where he's being held. None of his victims were in the courts, but a few have gotten touched since the verdicts. A couple were not at all surprised, but others are pretty shocked. As this appeal approached, we were all aware that for both sides it felt like one final hurdle, one final door to close. And now there's a clock ticking towards 2025. I'm Lucy Hoff and you've been listening to Can I Tell You a Secret? This is a podcast series from the Guardian. It was made by Sharon Carle, produced by me, Lucy Hoff, with original music and sound design by Axel Cacutee. The executive producers are Charlotte Pritchard and India Rackerson. The commissioning editor is Nicole Jackson. If you're following the series do subscribe and leave us a review. Thanks.