Belfast Facebook troll given 4 month jail sentence

By Gary Adair

A Belfast woman was given a 4 month jail sentence for persistent Facebook trolling of her ex-partner's new girlfriend.

Maureen Curoe, aged 42 from Belfast, had set up a fake Facebook account and linked up with 64 family and friends of Yvonne Hegarty - the girlfriend of Ms Curoe's former partner, Adrian McAleese. She then posted false accusations about Ms Hegarty, a special needs teaching assistant, including a claim that she had got her pupils "drunk". She had also sent her abusive text messages.

The court heard how there had been a long-running hate campaign conducted by Ms Curoe, which had resulted in previous court appearances, one of which resulted in a 5-year gagging order to prevent her from mentioning Ms Hegarty and Mr McAleese on social media. That order was breached on 8th January when Ms Curoe uploaded content referring to Ms Hegarty on Facebook.

District Judge Liam McNally imposed a prison sentence of 4 months, but Ms Curoe was released on bail after lodging an appeal. She will appear in court again on 6th June.

Online trolling has been a problem for a number of years, and the law has been rushing to keep up with what is a relatively new crime. There have been calls to make online abuse a specific criminal offence and create a register of offenders, but for the moment trolling is dealt with under existing legislation such as the Serious Crime Act 2007. New guidelines were issued in England and Wales last year that attempt to define thresholds that can be used to determine if online behaviour crosses over the line and can be considered as abusive.

In many cases it can be very subjective as to whether content posted online is abusive, and the law is struggling to evolve to deal with all the grey areas. There are however a large number of very clear cases of abuse and the courts are demonstrating a willingness to punish offenders. Legislation is also likely to be reformed in the near future and we can expect to see a significant increase in the number of cases appearing before the courts.

If you require legal advice in respect of defamation or another matter involving online abuse, contact one of the dispute resolution specialists at Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by clicking here.