Hartlepool vicar hate campaign charges overturned

Lynne Portues and Natalie Veart
Lynne Portues and Natalie Veart

A MUM and daughter accused of carrying out a hate campaign and branding an innocent vicar a paedophile have had their convictions quashed in an appeal.

Natalie Veart, 21, was found guilty at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court in March of sending an offensive Facebook message to a member of Holy Trinity Church congregation referring to alleged inappropriate images.

She was also found guilty of a public order offence by sending another offensive message to a woman.

Magistrates also convicted her mother Lynne Portues, 54, of making 22 nuisance 999 calls to police between July 26 and July 29 last year, claiming her daughter had been assaulted by a neighbour.

But all offences were quashed after they launched an appeal that was heard at Teesside Crown Court.

Bizarrely, the convictions and sentences were thrown out despite the pair not attending court or giving any detailed instructions to their barrister.

The judge said the appeal was “one of the strangest I have ever dealt with”.

That was because no-one from the police or the alleged victim of the harassment charge attended court to give evidence to the contrary.

Ms Veart’s conviction relating to the Facebook message received by church member Sarah Baker was also quashed.

Mrs Baker did attend court and gave evidence but the appeal panel, made up of a judge and two magistrates did not find it to be offensive.

The judge said the message by Veart dealt with matters regarding Holy Trinity reverend Paul Allinson which some people might find offensive.

But he said the content of the message was not.

Recorder Paul Isaacs said: “There has been no evidence as to whether what Natalie Veart and her mother saw is right or not.

“We have taken the view that whether it was right or otherwise, the question is have the prosecution made us sure what was in this message was grossly offensive, or indecent, obscene or menacing character. We don’t find it to be.”

In overturning the offence of using threatening abusive or insulting words or behaviour against Joanne Willingham, Recorder Paul Isaacs said: “We have heard absolutely no evidence about Joanne Willingham; who she is, where she lives or what her connection to Natalie Veart might be.”

The appeal heard evidence from Stephen Paul, Ms Veart’s former next door neighbour in Gilpark Grove, Seaton.

He said on July 29 last year Veart shouted “get that chav kid off your daughter before I kill it” referring to his step-daughter’s eight-month-old baby.

The judge found Veart – now living along with Portues at St Nicholas Street, Coventry – did make the comment but it did not appear to form the basis of any criminal charge before the court.

In quashing Ms Portues’s offence relating to the alleged nuisance phone calls, Recorder Isaacs said: “Unfortunately, the respondent has no evidence to put before the court not withstanding the fact that Lynne Portues is not before us.”

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “The cases against Lynn Portues and Natalie Veart were brought because they met the requirements of the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

“Following conviction by the justices, the defendants exercised their right to appeal, which was in each case upheld by the Crown Court resulting in their convictions being quashed.”