High Court backs victim's 'troll' fight
Friday 08 June 2012
A mother who was tormented with abusive messages by so-called
online trolls has won backing from the High Court to have the identities
of those who targeted her disclosed.
Nicola Brookes, 45, faced "vicious and depraved" abuse on Facebook after she posted a comment supporting former X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza when he left the show last year.
Her anonymous tormentors set up a fake Facebook profile in her name using her picture to post explicit comments and lure young girls, her solicitor Rupinder Bains said.
Frustrated at what she considered a lack of action by her local police force, Sussex Police, to help track the perpetrators, Ms Brookes took legal action.
She took her case to the High Court in London where an order was granted last week compelling Facebook to reveal the IP addresses and other information of the people who had abused her.
Once they have been identified, Ms Brookes, a single mother who suffers from Crohn's disease, intends to bring a private prosecution against the abusers.
Ms Brookes, from Brighton, East Sussex, said today: "I'm going for the strongest possible prosecution against these people.
"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 first alarmed her, along with the lack of action by police, as she praised her legal team.
She said: "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."
Although Ms Brookes's case is believed to be the first of its kind, there have been other recent examples where the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have brought trolls before the courts.
They include student Liam Stacey, 21, from Pontypridd, south Wales, who was jailed for 56 days for mocking Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter after he collapsed with a heart attack.
Ms Bains, a partner at Bains Cohen, the legal firm which is bringing the action, said today: "The police do have the ability and the resources to find out who is responsible for this type of abuse.
"The order that was granted from the High Court was called a Norwich Pharmacal Order which is a disclosure order compelling Facebook to give us whatever information they have.
"We don't know how useful that information is going to be until we have it.
"It may turn out to be fake. If that's the case, it will be the internet service providers (ISPs) who will be most useful to us because they will hold the bill-payers' addresses and we will have to get a further order."
She added that Facebook have been helpful but that Sussex Police have not been. Ms Bains said: "As far as we are concerned, nothing has been done by the police."
Sussex Police said they asked Facebook to remove any abusive posts about Ms Brookes and said their investigation was still continuing and had been reviewed.
A police spokesman said: "We understand how difficult this has been for Ms Brookes and the distress this has caused her.
"We have looked at the material sent to us by Ms Brookes and we have told Facebook to remove anything offensive or abusive towards her.
"We have also given her crime prevention advice. The matter is still subject of an active police investigation and has recently been reviewed.
"We are also seeking information from Facebook and the fact that the High Court has given authority to apply for the information required from Facebook is welcomed and may help our investigation.
"Ms Brookes and her solicitor will be kept in touch with any significant developments.
"As Facebook is an international website, millions of people from all over the world use it. We need to gather evidence to prove who the person is for a successful prosecution to take place.
"Officers examine any such allegations of bullying, harassment or malicious communication and every case is taken seriously."
Facebook said it 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.
Along with other large internet companies, it receives similar requests frequently but the company said all demands for information must be backed up by a court order.
A Facebook 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.
"We respect our legal obligations and work with law enforcement to ensure that such people are brought to justice."
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