Someone is sending me annoying, abusive or threatening emails / text messages / letters / phone calls, what can I do?

If you are receiving telephone calls that you simply find annoying then you can prevent the person from contacting you, if you have a mobile phone you can usually block the sender from your handset.

This varies from device to device and you should consult the instructions for your handset to do this, as an example on an Android device pressing and holding the entry in your call log will give you the option to block the caller. For a landline you can usually ask your service provider to do this without charge.

If you are receiving annoying emails you can set your email client or application to treat the message as Spam and this will prevent it from appearing in your Inbox, again this varies from program to program and device to device - most companies will provide detailed help text on how to do this online.

If the annoying messages are from a company trying to sell you goods or services you can register for the telephone preference service (TPS) to remove yourself from public listings. You can also report them to Trading Standards if, having been asked not to contact you, they continue to do so.

If the contact that you are receiving is more than annoyance and might also be abusive or threatening it may be an offence, the two main ones are Malicious Communications and Harassment.

If there has only been a single communication, which would be insufficient for the offence of harassment (above), there could be an offence relating to malicious communications. For such an offence to be committed, a message must be sent to another person (or sent via a public communications network) that is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene or threatening/menacing.

The word "harassment" does not have a legal definition, but the words alarm, distress or torment are the best words used to describe it. The incidents must be related and must not be two isolated incidents. The further apart the incidents are, the less likely there is to be an offence of harassment. However, all the circumstances of the incident will be taken into account when determining if an offence has been committed.

The law takes into account the "reasonable person" test. This means that if it was felt that a person of reasonable firmness (i.e. the average person on the street) would not be alarmed or distressed, the offence is not committed. The person sending the messages must also be aware that the course of conduct they are pursuing would cause the victim to alarmed or distressed.

As an example - John and Susan were partners, John finishes the relationship but Susan is not happy. She sends 30 e-mails/texts over the course of a week begging John to reconsider and as the week goes on these become increasingly abusive. If John is then distressed by this course of action, an offence of harassment is likely to have been committed. Note however, if John was not distressed, considered them to be an annoyance and ignored the e-mails/texts, then no offence of harassment would have occurred.

If you have received any threatening or abusive messages, and believe that an offence may have been committed, you can report this to us here online or via the telephone on 101.

To help the police in investigating your case you take take some simple steps to record what you have been sent:

  • Do not respond to the message, or get someone to speak to them on your behalf, it may only encourage the sender or make the situation worse
  • Take a screen shot of and retain any letter or message, if it is later deleted then you will still have a record of what was said.

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