A 60-year-old man sent a Conservative MP a threatening email telling her she would have to choose which one of her children would die.
Mother-of-three Louise Mensch, who is MP for Corby, was told she faced a “Sophie’s Choice” - a reference to a novel in which heroine Sophie has to choose between the life of her son or daughter at a Nazi concentration camp.
The sinister email was purportedly sent from the online hacking group Anonymous, Gloucester Magistrates’ Court heard today.
But police later arrested and charged Frank Zimmerman - an agoraphobic living in a run-down house in Gloucester.
Zimmerman, of Spinney Road, Barnwood, Gloucester, was convicted today in his absence of sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene, menacing message or matter.
The court heard that Zimmerman had failed to attend any court appearance to answer the single charge he faced or give proper instructions to his solicitor, blaming his agoraphobia and depression.
Defence solicitor Charles Cronin told District Judge Martin Brown that he had spoken to Zimmerman by telephone and he would not be attending court and was instead going back to bed.
District Judge Brown decided to proceed without him and held a hearing to determine whether Zimmerman had committed the offence.
Prosecutor Gaon Hart said Zimmerman sent the email to Mrs Mensch after she spoke out publicly during last summer’s riots calling for the police to be able to temporarily close down social network sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, if necessary.
Zimmerman originally made contact with the chick lit author-turned-MP on Twitter using the pseudonym Tim Cavendish.
He claimed he had information about Piers Morgan and the telephone hacking scandal engulfing the News of the World, the court heard.
Mrs Mensch sent him her personal gmail email address. It was to that account that Zimmerman sent the threatening message.
The email, which was timed at 10.47pm on August 22, was sent from an account with the address of firstname.lastname@example.org - a reference to the hacking group Lulz Security.
Mrs Mensch was in New York with her husband recovering from an operation while her three children were with their father, her ex-husband, in the UK.
The MP took the threats seriously and immediately contacted the police.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, Mrs Mensch spoke of her terror at receiving the threat.
“I was terrified on behalf of my children. I was in New York with my husband recovering from an operation and my children were with their father and to receive a threat like this made me very upset,” she said.
“I was 3,000 miles away from my children and I was worried for their safety and the safety of my ex-husband. I felt powerless to do anything.”
Mrs Mensch said that after receiving the email she was sent a Twitter message from someone called “Robert Redford”.
“He made reference to the contents of the email and that one of my children would die and it made me believe he was responsible,” she said.
Zimmerman first became a suspect for threatening Mrs Mensch when Independent newspaper columnist Terence Blacker, who was a former neighbour of the defendant in London, received a similar email.
A forensic examination linked the sender of the email to the IP and router addresses of Zimmerman’s Virgin Media account at his home in Gloucester.
Police visited his house and he volunteered the password for his computer.
Examination of that computer found Zimmerman had a series of tabs on his internet browser open at the Twitter accounts of Tim Cavendish, Mrs Mensch, Piers Morgan and Lord Prescott.
District Judge Brown said he had to rule on whether the email sent to Mrs Mensch was malicious, and if it was, if Zimmerman had sent it.
He said he was satisfied the email was malicious and added: “I can be satisfied that this was a malicious communication sent by Mr Zimmerman from his computer at his home address.
“I can therefore be satisfied that he committed the act in question and the offence has been committed.”
The judge said he had decided not to issue an immediate warrant for Zimmerman’s arrest without bail and was releasing him on unconditional bail until he is sentenced on May 8.
He told Mr Hart: “If he does not attend on that date, and unless circumstances change, he must understand I am being left with very little alternative but to issue a warrant.”
Following the judge’s ruling, Mr Hart said the Crown would be applying at the sentencing hearing for a restraining order against Zimmerman, preventing him contacting “other high-profile individuals”.
Details of the proposed order were not revealed in court.
Mrs Mensch said she did not wish to comment until after Zimmerman was sentenced.