A woman who was subjected to "vicious and depraved" abuse on Facebook has won a High Court legal battle to have her tormentors exposed, in a case believed to be among the first in Britain.
Nicola Brookes, 45, was targeted on the social networking website after she posted a comment supporting the former X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza when he was voted off the show last year. Her anonymous attackers set up a fake Facebook profile in her name, using her picture to post explicit comments, her solicitor explained. Frustrated at what she considered a lack of action by Sussex Police to help track the perpetrators, Ms Brookes, from Brighton, decided to take legal action. Her case went to the High Court in London, where an order was granted last week compelling Facebook to reveal the IP addresses and other information of those responsible.
It is believed to be one of the first cases where an individual has successfully taken legal action against Facebook to reveal the identities of cyberbullies. Ms Brookes, a single mother who suffers from Crohn's disease, now intends to bring private prosecutions against her abusers. "I'm going for the strongest possible prosecution against these people," she said yesterday. "I want them exposed. They exposed me and they invaded my life. I didn't ask for it. They wanted a reaction from me and now they have got it."
She added that it was the "speed and viciousness" of the postings that alarmed her, adding: "After posting the comment about Frankie Cocozza, I went back to Facebook about an hour later and there was loads of abuse. At the time, I thought of it as banter.
"But after a few days people starting saying to me 'You're popping up all over the internet'. People were inciting hatred against me. They weren't just targeting me, they were also dragging young girls into it as well. They weren't playing."
It will not be the first time that police have successfully brought so-called "internet trolls" in front of the courts. In March, Liam Stacey, 21, from Pontypridd in south Wales, was jailed for 56 days for mocking the Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed with a heart attack on the pitch.
Ms Brookes' solicitor, Rupinder Bains, explained that the order granted by the High Court was called a Norwich Pharmacal – a type of disclosure order which effectively compelled Facebook to hand over information.
"We don't know how useful that information is going to be until we have it," she said. "It may turn out to be fake. If that's the case, it will be the internet service providers who will be most useful to us because they will hold the bill-payers' addresses and we will have to get a further order."
Facebook shares information such as IP addresses and basic subscriber information, including names, email addresses and registration dates, when there is a legal justification and obligation, backed up by a court order. Yesterday a spokesman said: "There is no place for harassment on Facebook, but unfortunately a small minority of malicious individuals exist online, just as they do offline."
Sussex Police said they had asked Facebook to remove any abusive posts about Ms Brookes and that an investigation was still continuing.
Cotton hits back at online tormentors
Fearne Cotton has accused those who criticised her part in the BBC's coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee of being bullies. "People who sit lazily and judge others will never grow," she wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet she added: "Grown men who slag me off in articles/online are huge bullies. I love my job and wouldn't be doing it if I wasnt any good at it."