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By Hugh Jordan

December 22, 2011 | 2 min read

The YouTube vigilante whose antics tackling a fare dodger went viral earlier this month has now been charged with assault.

According to several National newspapers, the man – named in some as Alan Pollock – will face trial for his intervention. For those not among the 2 million YouTube viewers, Pollock came to the assistance of a conductor and using considerable force bundled a mouthy teenager refusing to pay his fare off a train.

The incident is beginning to prove something of a PR headache for the authorities. Public and media sentiment, appear largely on the side of the vigilante – and the applause Pollock received from other passengers makes it doubtful they disapproved of his approach - but the fact there is video evidence compels the authorities to prosecute.

Some are questioning how impartial those trying Pollock can be; perhaps this is true but judges and juries have long faced difficulties of media interest and hype. And being able to view the incident first hand in real-time is surely preferable to being exposed to endless second-hand media reportage.

Situations of this type, where amateur footage exists, are only going to become more common. Smartphones mean anybody can now be ‘caught on camera’, and authorities would do well to engage in public dialogue about contentious issues that stir public sentiment. In this sense, video footage should be welcomed.

Clearly the law shouldn’t be swayed by public (or media) hysteria, but failing to engage in discussion over incidents such as this misses an opportunity to gauge where boundaries lie, and could lead to a situation where nobody intervenes in future for fear of prosecution.