Happy slapping

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Happy slapping was a fad originating in the United Kingdom around 2005, in which one or more people attack a victim for the purpose of recording the assault (commonly with a camera phone or a smartphone). Though the term usually refers to relatively minor acts of violence such as hitting or slapping the victim, more serious crimes such as the murder of a retired care worker,[1] and sexual assault have been classified as "happy slapping" by the BBC.[2]

Use with video technology[edit]

The ease and general availability of video cameras in mobile phones means that such attacks need not be planned carefully beforehand and are more easily watched and circulated for entertainment. Some political and media commentators claim the craze was inspired by such television shows as Jackass, Dirty Sanchez and Bumfights.[3][4][5]


"Happy slapping" started in the south London Borough of Lewisham,[6][7] in a format known as "Slap Happy TV", where a happy-slapping video would be recorded, and then watched by dozens of people like a TV show, but in the form of a montage. Videos of Happy Slapping were commonly circulated via Bluetooth on mobile phones. The first newspaper article to use the phrase "happy slapping" was "Bullies film fights by phone", published in The Times Educational Supplement on 21 January 2005, in which reporter Michael Shaw described teachers' accounts of the craze in London schools.

Gary Martin, writing on "The Phrase Finder" website described the phenomenon as: "Unprovoked attacks on individuals made in order to record the event, and especially the victim's shock and surprise, on video phones."[8]

Martin wrote that happy slapping "began as a youth craze in the UK in late 2004. Children or passers by are slapped or otherwise mugged by one or more of a gang while others record the event on video and then distribute it by phone or Internet. Initially the attacks were, as the phrase would have us believe, fairly minor pranks ... As the craze spread the attacks became more vicious—often serious assaults known in legal circles as grievous bodily harm."[8]

Legal consequences[edit]


When the international media attention surrounding attacks abroad reached a high point, a girl was sentenced to eight months in prison.[9] She was sentenced on a number of counts including previous crimes.[clarification needed]

A common punishment in 2007 was a fine or up to 40 days in prison, suspended if the attacker has no previous record.[10][11] The attacker shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for any term which does not exceed 3 years.[12] Happy slapping is judged as "simple battery" as defined by section 244 of the Danish Criminal Code.[12]


In February 2007, an amendment aimed at criminalising "happy slapping" was added to a law "on the prevention of delinquency" by the Parliament of France based on a proposal from then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.[13][14] The anti-happy-slapping clause appears as the last part of Article 44, which also deals with ambushing law enforcement personnel. The law equates filming or photographing certain classes of violent crimes, including severe beatings and rape, with being an accomplice of such crimes. The law makes it illegal to broadcast the images of such crimes, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a €75,000 fine.[citation needed]

The law does not apply to those who took the above actions in order to obtain evidence in court, or as professional journalism. Professional journalism is delimited in France by the "press card", which is awarded by a commission representing journalist unions and press organisations.[15] As defined by law,[16] a professional journalist is one whose main activity is professional paid journalism.

The bill was signed into law on 5 March 2007, despite some organisations, including Reporters Without Borders,[17] and the French chapter of Wikimedia,[18] arguing that this clause created a legal discrimination in criminal law between professional journalists and ordinary citizens practising journalism. Specifically, it was argued that citizens filming incidents of police brutality and publishing such information online could be intimidated by law enforcement into remaining silent, or prosecuted for their actions. This criticism was relayed by the international media.[19]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared to Reporters Without Borders that "the spirit of the law is not to infringe of freedom of information. However, if the least doubt subsisted, then I'm in favour of a clarification of the law."[20][21]

United Kingdom[edit]

In March 2008, a teenage girl who filmed the fatal beating of a man on her mobile phone was sentenced to two years' detention in the first prosecution of its kind in the United Kingdom. The judge stated that the courts had to make an example of such youths. She had pleaded guilty at Leeds Crown Court in February 2008 to aiding and abetting the murder of Gavin Waterhouse, 29, from Keighley, West Yorkshire. Mark Masters, 19, from Keighley, and Sean Thompson, 17, from Bradford, were sentenced to seven and six years, respectively, after admitting to murder. Waterhouse died from a ruptured spleen after being beaten in September 2007.[22][23][24]

Just before the attack, the girl was handed a mobile phone by one of the attackers and told to "video this", prosecutors said. She approached Waterhouse, asked for money, and recorded the subsequent attack. She was sentenced to serve a two-year detention training order. Police said they were satisfied with the court's decision. The Crown Prosecutor said "this is the first time a suspect in England and Wales has been successfully prosecuted for aiding and abetting murder or manslaughter, for the filming of an inaptly called 'happy slapping' incident".[25]

Media-reported incidents[edit]

  • United Kingdom: On 9 May 2005, a 16-year-old Plant Hill Arts College student was beaten up and left unconscious in a vicious "happy slapping" attack in Blackley, Manchester. Footage of the attack was circulated on students' phones.[26]
  • United Kingdom, 18 June 2005: Police arrested three 14-year-old boys for the suspected rape of an 11-year-old girl who attended their school in Stoke Newington, London. Authorities were alerted when school staff saw footage from the students' phones.[27]
  • United Kingdom, 7 December 2005: Singer Myleene Klass was happy-slapped in Bermondsey, South London.[28]
  • United Kingdom, December 2005: A 15-year-old-girl, Chelsea O'Mahoney (her name was initially withheld, although this decision was reversed during sentencing)[29] and her co-defendants Reece Sargeant, 21, Darren Case, 18, and David Blenman, 17, were all convicted of the manslaughter of David Morley in London. Barry Lee, 20, and another 17-year-old were cleared of all charges. According to press reports, "The 15-year-old girl had told Morley that she was making a documentary about 'happy slapping' before her gang of friends kicked him to death."[30][31]
  • Sweden, 1 September 2006: A 16-year-old boy happy slapped and hospitalised a 15-year-old boy in the city of Örebro. Hours later, the victim's 17-year-old sister stabbed and killed the assailant with a hunting knife and claimed self-defence. The happy slapping was filmed and distributed online. The incidents were considered gang-related.[32]
  • Australia, 23 October 2006: Police in Victoria launched an investigation into the production and distribution of a DVD, Cunt: The Movie, featuring footage of several youths sexually assaulting a girl and setting her hair on fire. DVD copies were allegedly sold at the Werribee Secondary College for AU$10.[33][34]
  • United Kingdom, 26 January 2007: Andrew Elvin, 17, was jailed for life, with a minimum custodial sentence of twelve years, for the murder of Luke Salisbury, who died three days after being attacked by Elvin on 2 March 2006. Caine Hallett, 18, was sentenced to five years for manslaughter for the same incident, while Danielle Reeves, 18, faced a retrial in May 2007 for manslaughter.[35]
  • United Kingdom, 14 February 2007: Eight youths set upon a 31-year-old man, Curtis Mulcare, in Brighton, who turned out to be an amateur boxer. Two of the youths were hospitalised by the intended victim and four were arrested for causing an affray.[36]
  • United Kingdom, July 2007: Anthony Anderson, 27, of Hartlepool, urinated on a dying woman while a friend made a video of the incident. He is reported to have yelled "This is YouTube material!"[37]
  • United Kingdom, November 2007: Emily Nakanda, 15, a contestant in the TV show The X Factor, withdrew from the competition after a happy-slapping video in which Nakanda allegedly attacks a teenage girl was discovered on the internet.[38]
  • United Kingdom, May 2008: A teenage girl fell to her death from an attic window while trying to escape a "happy slapping" girl gang.[39] Her primary assailant was sentenced to 8 years incarceration while another was ordered detained at a psychiatric facility without a time limit.[40]
  • United Kingdom, August 2009: Ekram Haque, a retired care worker was assaulted and killed by two teens as he left his house of worship.[41] Haque's attack was the subject of a BBC3 episode of Our Crime.[42]

In fiction[edit]

In the 2006 Doctor Who episode School Reunion, the Doctor comments on the kids at the school being very well-behaved, expecting them to be "happy-slapping hoodies with ASBOs and ringtones".

The group of British teenagers in the 2008 movie Eden Lake filmed the torturing and burning of a little boy.

In the 2009 film Harry Brown, a teenager films the murder of an elderly man, which Michael Caine's character uses as evidence to inflict pain on the teenager.

In episode 1 of series 2 of British political satire The Thick of It, Hugh tells Glenn to happy slap Ollie while Hugh takes a picture of it on Ollie's phone.

In Coronation Street in November 2013, Simon Barlow was the victim of a happy-slapping incident caused by Faye Windass and Grace Piper. Simon was attacked, forced into one of his cousin Amy's dresses and had lipstick tried to be applied to him. Grace filmed while Faye attacked him.

In 2011, Canadian filmmaker Christos Sourligas directed a film, also called Happy Slapping, about this phenomenon. The film was shot entirely on iPhone 4S by the cast.[43] It was re-edited in 2014 with new material to accommodate the "selfie"-obsessed market.[44]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Happy slapping' gang members admit killing Ekram Haque". BBC News. 16 June 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  2. ^ "Sex attack phone girls detained". BBC News. 30 August 2007. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  3. ^ "TV to blame for 'happy slapping' craze". Manchester Evening News. 30 June 2005. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  4. ^ "'Don't ban' slap attack TV shows". BBC News. 12 May 2005. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  5. ^ Watt, Nick (17 May 2006). "'Happy Slapping' Spreads in London". ABC News. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  6. ^ Akwagyiram, Alexis. "Does 'happy slapping' exist?". BBC News. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  7. ^ Johnston, Chris. "Happy-slap link to TV shows". The Times. London, UK. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  8. ^ a b Martin, Gary. "Happy slapping". phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  9. ^ "8-måneders fængsel for 'happy slapping'" Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine, Netavisen Sjaelland, 9 November 2006.
  10. ^ Oversigt over straffene i voldssager efter ændringen af straffelovens §§ 244–246, Prosecutor General of Denmark (Overview of punishments in cases of violence after change of §244–246); accessed 1 September 2016.(in Danish)
  11. ^ Peter Banke "Slap med bøde for 'happy slapping'", BT.dk, 19 April 2006.(in Danish)
  12. ^ a b "Criminal codes - Legislationline". www.legislationline.org. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  13. ^ Legislative file, assemblee-nationale.fr; accessed 1 September 2016. (in French)
  14. ^ Law #2007-297, legifrance.gouv.fr; accessed 1 September 2016. (in French)
  15. ^ Commission de la carte d'identité des journalistes professionnels
  16. ^ Work Code, article L761-2, article L761-15, article L761-16
  17. ^ "Communiqué". Reporters Without Borders. Archived from the original on 3 May 2008. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  18. ^ Communiqué Archived 2007-03-22 at the Wayback Machine (in French)
  19. ^ Criticism of anti-"happy slapping" law, timesonline.co.uk, 9 March 2007.
    Criticism of anti-"happy slapping" law, post-gazette.com, 11 March 2007.
    Criticism of anti-"happy slapping" law, WeeklyStandard.com, 14 March 2007.
  20. ^ Communiqué Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine, rsf.org, 13 April 2007
  21. ^ Nicolas Sarkozy comments on "happy slapping" legislation Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine, rsf.org; accessed 1 September 2016.
  22. ^ "Happy slap attack girl guilty". BBC News. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  23. ^ "'Happy slap' death girl convicted". BBC News. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  24. ^ Balakrishnan, Angela (18 March 2008). "Girl jailed for filming 'happy-slap' killing". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  25. ^ "Suspect sentenced for aiding and abetting a 'happy slapping' incident", news.com.au; accessed 1 September 2016.
  26. ^ "Mother rages at 'slap attackers'". BBC News. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  27. ^ Sulaiman, Tosin. "Girl's rape 'filmed by teenagers on mobile'". The Times. London, UK. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  28. ^ Robertson, Cameron. "Myleene's Happy Slap Hell". The Mirror. London, UK. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  29. ^ "Youths jailed for barman killing". BBC News. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  30. ^ Summers, Chris. "Feral pack who thrived on violence". BBC News. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  31. ^ "Jail For Happy Slap Killers". Sky News. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  32. ^ "Isosisko pisti kuoliaaksi pikkuveljensä hakkaajan Örebrossa". Turun Sanomat (in Finnish). Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  33. ^ "DVD school in despair". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  34. ^ "Teens face DVD porn charges". The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  35. ^ "Life for 'happy slap' murder boy". BBC News. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  36. ^ "Six teens bailed in 'happy slap' inquiry". The Argus. Retrieved 23 May 2007.
  37. ^ USA Today: Man urinates on dying woman, declaring it "YouTube material" Archived 2007-10-11 at the Wayback Machine, usatoday.com; accessed 1 September 2016.
  38. ^ "X Factor Emily pulls out of show". BBC News. 2 November 2007. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  39. ^ "Teen girl dies fleeing 'happy slap' gang". news.com.au. Archived from the original on 25 May 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2008.
  40. ^ "Girl, 15, sentenced to eight years over bullying death of Rosimeiri Boxall". The Guardian. 2009-12-15. Retrieved 2020-06-30.
  41. ^ BBC News, Attorney General to review "happy-slap" sentence
  42. ^ "Attacked", bbc.co.uk; accessed 1 September 2016.
  43. ^ Vlessing, Etan (26 August 2011). "Canadian 'Happy Slapping' Feature Shot Solely By Actors Using iPhone 4". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  44. ^ Brownstein, Bill. "Filmmakers pick up the phone for an update of Happy Slapping". Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 30 November 2015.

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