A ‘SICK’ man who posted ‘despicable’ comments on his Facebook page about missing youngster April Jones has been jailed for 12 weeks.
Police arrested Matthew Woods, 19, of Chorley, after a furious mob of 50 people turned up at his home on Saturday night.
Yesterday he was jailed for the maximum period possible after magistrates said he had committed a ‘disgusting and despicable’ crime.
The country has been gripped by the hunt for April, who went missing from her home in Machynlleth, mid-Wales, last week. Local man 46-year-old Mark Bridger has been charged with her murder and appeared in court to face the allegations for the first time yesterday in Aberystwyth.
Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle said: “The whole of the country is shocked and feeling hurt and sorrow for the family of this little girl.
“To do something like this shows his mind is obviously sick. You have to question the mental health of the person and the websites that carry postings like this.”
Machynlleth town clerk Mel Biffin said: “It’s disgusting, really disgusting. You can’t say stuff like that.
“It’s very hurtful for the community having to deal with this.”
Chorley Magistrates Court heard that unemployed Woods made a series of derogatory posts about April as well as Madeline McCann, who went missing in 2007 on a family holiday to Portugal, after getting the idea from Sickipedia - a website that ‘trades in sick jokes’.
He wrote comments of a sexually explicit nature about the five-year-old.
In addition he made comments including: "I woke up this morning in the back of a transit van with two beautiful little girls, I found April in a hopeless place."
Another read: "Who in their right mind would abduct a ginger kid?"
Others stated "I love April Jones" and "Could have just started the greatest Facebook argument ever. April Fools, Who Wants Maddie?"
Woods was arrested for his own safety on Saturday night and was remanded in custody ahead of his appearance at court where he pleaded guilty to ‘sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive’.
Chairman of the bench, Bill Hudson, said Woods' comments were so serious and ‘abhorrent’ that he deserved the longest sentence they could pass, less a third to give credit for his early guilty plea.
Mr Hudson said: "We have listened to the evidence in what can only be described as a disgusting and despicable crime which the bench finds was completely abhorrent.
"The words and references used about the current case in Wales and that of the missing girl in Portugal are nothing less than shocking, so much so that no right-thinking person in society should have communicated to them such fear and distress."
He added that families involved in cases such as these should not have to be subjected to any use of social media like this and it should not be used to mistreat people in this way.
He said only a custodial term in a young offender institute was appropriate. His comment was greeted with applause from around 30 people sitting in the public gallery.
Mr Hudson concluded: "The reason for the sentence is the seriousness of the offence, the public outrage that has been caused and we felt there was no other sentence this court could have passed which conveys to you the abhorrence that many in society feel this crime should receive."
Woods smirked as people in the public gallery cheered, before he was led from the dock.
Coun Peter Wilson, deputy leader of Chorley Council, said the remarks were ‘sick’.
He said: “It’s absolutely appalling to make such comments on the back of such a tragedy. To make a joke about something like that is sick.
“We have freedom of speech, but there are limits to what people should and shouldn’t say.”
Your say on the case
RESIDENTS expressed their disgust at Matthew Woods, who has been jailed for making ‘grossly offensive’ comments about missing five-year-old April Jones.
Shopper Ronald Hampson, 74, of Coppull, said the magistrates should have come down harder on Woods.
“He should be punished. They should have sentenced him to longer. It’s not enough. Nowhere near long enough.”
Barry Richmond, 52, from Chorley, said: “It’s time they make an example of someone for using social media. The parents are going through enough as it is. Some people don’t realise the implications of what they write, and others don’t care. Hopefully this will make him, and others think before they post comments like this in the future.”
Wife Sharon Richmond, 49, also from Chorley, said: “I think it’s dreadful what he’s done. It’s hurting April’s family even more. They are going through enough at the moment without this as well.”
Fiona Laventure, 51, from Chorley, called Woods ‘cruel’.
“I think he deserves to be punished. To make any joke or comment about what’s happened is terrible.
“He obviously thought it was quite funny, but it was very cruel and this might make him think before doing it again.”
Others believed the social media site was to blame.
James Melling, 92, from Chorley, said: “I think the sentence should have been more.
“I think Facebook should be stopped. It should get in trouble for letting this happen and it should be monitored more.”
However, Tom Bell, 41, of Croston, said he believed in freedom of speech.
He said: “I don’t know or care what has been said but he shouldn’t be punished for putting something on Facebook.
“You can’t punish people for letting them use their voice. It’s freedom of speech. Jokes are creative.”