An internet ‘troll’ who posted vile abuse on Facebook memorial sites dedicated to dead children
was jailed yesterday.
caused ‘untold distress’ by mocking a 15-year-old schoolgirl who committed suicide, leaving obscene messages and videos on a condolence page set up by her family.
The 25-year-old – the son of a BBC comedy writer who worked with Terry Wogan – also hijacked tribute websites of three other children he had never met.
In one of the first cases of its kind, the autistic loner was sentenced to 18 weeks behind bars and banned from using social networking sites for five years
He had admitted he was hooked on the sick craze of ‘trolling’ – where internet users deliberately leave abusive and bullying comments on networking sites.
Yesterday one of his victim’s parents hit out at Facebook, calling on the website to do more to tackle the problem after it emerged that one girl wrongly accused by others of posting the messages had attempted suicide.
The teenager took a drug overdose, but survived to see her innocence proved when Duffy was arrested earlier this year.
Reading magistrates heard how the alcoholic, who suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism in which sufferers have difficulties with communication and social interaction – trawled the internet looking for tribute sites.
He targeted Natasha MacBryde, who threw herself under a train close to her home in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, on Valentine’s Day this year.
The next day, Duffy trashed her Facebook memorial page, branding the public schoolgirl a ‘spoiled little ****’.
He attached to her tribute site another Facebook page entitled Tasha MacTank Engine featuring a video in which the face of the Royal Grammar School Worcester pupil was put on a train with the theme to Thomas the Tank Engine playing in the background.
Prosecuting, Joanne Belsey said Natasha’s father Andrew felt physically sick by the ‘cowardly and nasty’ abuse which ‘added to the horror of dealing with the death of their beautiful daughter’.
‘He could not believe that anyone would stoop to such depths,’ she said. ‘It was virtual bullying.’
Duffy also created a Facebook page attacking 14-year-old Lauren Drew, who died in January following an epileptic fit at her home in Gloucester.
Fuelled by alcohol, he cruelly targeted her grieving mother, impersonating her dead daughter on the website, saying: ‘Help me Mummy, it’s hot in Hell.’
Duffy also targeted a site for 16-year-old Hayley Bates, of Biddulph, Staffordshire, who died in a car crash on the M6 last September, while in another case he created a page called ‘Jordan Cooper rest in pieces’ for a 14-year-old who was stabbed to death in Newcastle upon Tyne, in February.
The loner, who lives on benefits in Reading, was caught only when Miss MacBryde’s family alerted police, who were able to trace the false email accounts he used.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of sending malicious communications, relating to Miss MacBryde. Three further offences were taken into consideration.
Trolling is an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison.
Sentencing him yesterday, magistrate Paul Warren said: ‘The offences are so serious only a custodial sentence could be justified.’ Dressed in a checked shirt and jeans, Duffy remained expressionless as he was led to the cells.
Mr Duffy said his son left the messages because he wanted attention. ‘He was getting a response and a reaction from doing it,’
he said. ‘He didn’t understand the far-reaching implications of what he was doing.’
Facebook said last night: ‘There is no place for trolling on Facebook. When abuse is reported to us, we react swiftly, and we will disable accounts that are found to be in breach of our terms.’