Man On Trial Over Hastings Riot Messages

A father was cleared today of posting a series of messages on Facebook to incite looting at the height of the nationwide riots in the summer.

A jury decided unemployed Nathan Sinden, 27, was joking when he wrote comments including: ``Let's start a riot in Hastings. Who's on it?''

In postings visible to his 754 Facebook friends, he also wrote: ``Looting it is then today. Who's up for shopping?'' and followed it up with ``Town on lockdown. LOL.''

A two-day trial heard that because of his online comments and those of others, shops shut early and 38 police officers were deployed as rumours of potential trouble spread in Hastings town centre, East Sussex, on August 9.

Shaven-headed Sinden, of Blackman Avenue, St Leonards-on-Sea, was arrested the following day but told police he was joking and never had any intention to follow through with his threats.

He denied intentionally encouraging or assisting the commission of burglary and jurors sitting at Hove Crown Court returned a not guilty verdict after deliberating for 30 minutes.

A number of Sinden's friends posted replies to his comments, including one who said: ``Well then, I hope your daughter is very proud.''

Jurors heard that Sinden replied: ``She will be when I've got her loads of new things.'' He added in another post: ``F*** it. Old Bill probably s******* it.''

But in a private chat thread on Facebook, Sinden was asked by a friend whether he was serious about his comments and he confirmed he was joking.

Sinden, who the jury heard has previous convictions for theft, criminal damage and violence and disorder, told officers: ``You don't expect to believe everything you read on Facebook.''

His friend Clinton Smith, a father of two, also said he believed he was joking and that there was no serious threat behind his comments.

Mr Smith, a part-time graphic designer and supermarket worker, said: ``I took it as a joke straight-away. I thought he was being ironic.

``When I added my comment, 'Yeah, I'm going straight down to Poundland', I was also being ironic. I thought people would find it funny.

``I don't believe anyone would act on it. It was literally pure joking - banter among friends.'' He added: ``Maybe my humour is not to everyone's taste but it was intended as a joke.''