The man who sent threatening messages to people including the Conservative MP Louise Mensch and The Independent's columnist Terence Blacker avoided jail but received a suspended sentence and an order not to contact his high-profile victims again.
Safe in what he must have thought was the anonymity of the internet, Frank Zimmerman portrayed himself as an expert computer hacker with inside information on the newspaper phone-hacking scandal as he sent abusive and threatening missives.
Yesterday, as he appeared at Cheltenham magistrates' court having been arrested on a warrant by police, he was revealed as a destitute, 60-year-old agoraphobic with flowing white hair and a history of depression.
The victims of his vitriolic messages included the businessman Lord Sugar, General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the Army, and David Petraeus, the former US Army commander in Iraq and Afghanistan and now CIA head. And to Terence Blacker, one of his former neighbours, Zimmerman posed as a member of the hacking group LulzSec, sending a series of threatening emails.
But it was his messages to Ms Mensch that brought him to the dock. Zimmerman told the MP she faced a "Sophie's Choice" – a reference to the novel in which the heroine has to choose between the life of her son or daughter.
Addressing the Corby MP as the "slut of Twitter", Zimmerman wrote: "We are Anonymous and we do not like rude c***s like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch. We are inside your computer, all your phones everywhere and inside your homes. So get off Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and we will post it over the net including Twitter, c***face."
The MP, who had given him her personal email address after he contacted her on Twitter claiming he had information on the hacking scandal, ordered protection for her family and informed police who traced the IP address of the messages to Zimmerman's house in Barnwood, Gloucestershire.
After the sentencing Ms Mensch tweeted: "Sentence seems proportionate and just. I hope it will deter others from this kind of abuse and bullying."
She added: "Other women besides myself were targeted by this man; and police forces...[devoted] resources."
The sentencing of Zimmerman is the latest sign that prosecutors are clamping down on cyberbullying by so-called "trolls". Earlier this year police took action against Liam Stacey, 21, from South Wales, who was jailed for 56 days for mocking the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed with a heart attack. Sean Duffy, 25, was jailed last September for mocking the death of Natasha MacBryde, 15, who threw herself under a train. And last week, Facebook was ordered by the High Court to hand over details of users accused of bullying Nicola Brookes.Reuse content