The feud between the Sayers and Conroy families is easily the North East's most infamous gangland beef. The two Tyneside families have been at each other's throats for over a decade, and as gangland spats go, it's definitely up there with the worst of them; former gangster Bernard O'Mahoney described it as "Britain's bloodiest gang war" in the title for his book about the saga.
The feud has taken a number of unexpected turns throughout the years, but none as strange as the latest chapter. Paddy Conroy, who, in 1995, was convicted of kidnapping and torturing a man (but still maintains his innocence), recently reported reformed gangster Stephen Sayers to the police – for cyber-bullying.
The gangland world is certainly an odd one: one day you're being convicted of torture, the next you're taking an old rival to court for posting unkind messages about you on Facebook. The post in question, sent on the 17th of February this year, saw Sayers accusing Conroy of being a paedophile after hearing from a "reputable source" that Conroy's ex-wife had seen an image of a naked girl appear on his computer, before telling her husband, "She does not look over 16, Paddy."
Conroy said he deleted the picture immediately and that it was unwanted spam. He has since taken a lie detector test about this, the result of which backed up his version of events.
That Conroy chose to go to the police about this is mildly surprising, given that during the MacIntyre documentary he went on an explosive rant in which he accused Sayers of "coppering every cunt" (grassing), said in a manner that implied it was a terrible thing to do. But I suppose being accused of noncery must be enough to justify a bit of coppering?
Despite Sayers originally being accused of sending a barrage of abusive posts, on the day of the court case – the 5th of October – charges were changed so they only related to a single malicious message. The post in question described Conroy as a "jealous grass" who "will shag ya kids give'm [sic] half the chance". The post also claimed that he had "blamed his innocent son for the hard core [sic] child porn" and included the hash-tag #GetThePeadofilesOffFaceBook [sic].
Prosecuting on behalf of Conroy, Brian Payne began by outlining the longstanding history of animosity between the Sayers and Conroy families. He said there had been "long running and bitter disputes played out on numerous platforms, and done over a number of years, now being played out on Facebook". He pointed out that Conroy had never been arrested for any offences related to paedophilia or child porn, and mentioned that, now that both Sayers and Conroy are "in middling years", their feud had migrated from the streets to the internet.
Sayers' solicitor claimed that he had merely been responding in kind to similar abuse from Conroy. "The advent of social media has been like manna from heaven for Mr Conroy, and it continues to this day," he said. "He has accused [the Sayers family] of murder, sexual offences and a whole host of gangland activities that are, of course, unfounded and without merit. The more concerning allegation from Mr Conroy, for which there may well have been serious consequences, is that Mr Sayers is an informant for the police, the National Crime Agency and, ridiculously, MI5."
He argued that claiming Sayers is a police informant could have placed him at risk of serious violence, and added that "Mr Conroy accusing Mr Sayers of posting offensive material is like someone living in a glass house and throwing a boulder".
Sayers entered a guilty plea for posting an offensive message online, but maintained he had believed his accusations against Conroy to be true. He was ordered to pay a £110 fine, £20 victim surcharge and £350 in court costs.
"I personally think this is a waste of taxpayers' money," Sayers said after the case.
Although the idea of hardened former gangsters going to the police over cyber-bullying seems somewhat comical, if there's anything to be gleaned from this bizarre turn of events it's that online abuse isn't a laughing matter. If it can reduce a major gangland figure to taking police action, think what it can do to a 12-year-old kid. It's easy to take the attitude that words on a page are incapable of causing any real harm, but given that Paddy claims to have been stabbed in the head in the past and didn't name his attacker, it's clear that online harassment can be as serious as any physical attack.
Thanks to Steve Wraith for providing additional information about the case. Wraith has co-authored a book about the Sayers family.
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