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Families blast troll who made sick Facebook posts about dead youngsters

A ‘sadist’ internet troll who left sickening comments on Facebook tribute pages dedicated to dead youngsters has been jailed for 14 months.

Paul Hind, 38, mocked and insulted people who had passed away and caused extra heartache to their already devastated families because he was ‘bored’.

Newcastle Crown Court heard Hind had defaced a memorial page belonging to Hannah Witheridge, who was raped and beaten to death in Thailand in 2014.

He also targeted Olivia Burt, a Durham University student who was crushed to death beneath a barrier as she queued to get into a nightclub, Joe Tilley, who was found dead in South America and student Duncan Sim, whose remains were found earlier this year on St Andrews beach in Scotland. 

Paul Hind, pictured in a mugshot

Paul Hind, 38, pictured left at a previous court case and right in his mugshot, was jailed for 14 months after admitting leaving ‘callous’ abusive messages on Facebook tribute pages to dead youngsters

Hannah’s grieving sister Laura Witheridge read her victim impact statement at the hearing and said the loss of her ‘beautiful’ sibling had been the ‘most painful thing imaginable’.

Miss Witheridge told the court the posts were ‘as much an attack on Hannah as it was on my family’ and said the comments were ‘particularly cruel and callous’.

She added: ‘Hannah is unable to defend herself. Trolling the living is terrible enough. Trolling the deceased is an absolute atrocity.’

Miss Witheridge said police had warned her family there was a chance of abusive messages after the tragedy and that Hind’s were the most ‘callous’.

She branded those who ‘hide’ behind their computers to send such vile messages ‘cowards’ and added: ‘I hope the message goes out that crimes of this nature do come with consequences.’  

Miss Witheridge said she had been regularly targeted by trolls on social media since her 23-year-old sister was raped and murdered on a beach on the island of Koh Tao in September 2014 with fellow Broton David Miller, 24 while backpacking around Thailand.

She said she had earlier received death threats and been sent crime scene photographs of her sister’s body by trolls.

But she described Hind’s actions as ‘deeply rooted, especially dark and unusual’ as he had set up a fake Twitter profile in Hannah’s name which was ‘cruel, completely inaccurate and callous.’

One of the messages trolled a page in memory of Hannah Witheridge, pictured, who was raped and murdered in Thailand in 2014

Her sister Laura, pictured with a male companion at court today, branded the comments an 'absolute atrocity'

One of the messages trolled a page in memory of Hannah Witheridge, left, who was raped and murdered in Thailand in 2014. Her sister Laura, pictured right with a male companion at court today, branded the comments an ‘absolute atrocity’

Hind also targeted tribute pages to Olivia Burt, pictured, a Durham University student crushed to death by a barrier outside a nightclub

Another target was a tribute page to Duncan Sim, pictured, a student whose remains were found on a beach in St Andrews, Scotland, earlier this year after he went missing,

Hind also targeted tribute pages to Olivia Burt, left, a Durham University student crushed to death by a barrier outside a nightclub, and Duncan Sim, right, a student whose remains were found on a beach in St Andrews, Scotland, earlier this year after he went missing

Miss Witheridge, of Hemsby, Norfolk, added: ‘It was obviously invented and executed to upset my family and those who loved Hannah but, unlike the others, it was as much of an attack on Hannah as it was on my family.

‘Creating an offensive, inaccurate, fraudulent twitter profile in Hannah’s name and following everyone from the friends list of her authentic profile saw this particular offender stooping to new lows.

‘Photos were stolen from Hannah’s accounts and the profile biography created was cruel, completely inaccurate and callous.

‘Sending me crime scene photos and death threats is one thing, but creating a fake profile in the name of a victim of a brutal murder is something else entirely. Hannah is unable to defend herself.

‘Trolling the living is terrible enough, but targeting the deceased is an absolute atrocity. Even though the likely motivation was to cause distress to Hannah’s loved ones, the fact that her identity was fraudulently used to achieve this is despicable.

‘Losing someone you love, suddenly, in tragic circumstances is the most painful thing imaginable. I don’t believe that, unless you have been in such a position, you can truly comprehend how torturous and unbearable it is.

Hind previously broke down in tears at a previous hearing, pictured, and said he targeted dead people because they 'could not fight back'

Hind previously broke down in tears at a previous hearing, pictured, and said he targeted dead people because they ‘could not fight back’

‘Back in March, for the first time ever, I was told something could be done.. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that today offers some justice for my family, and all of the other families involved in this case and I hope it sends a strong message that sitting in a dark room, hiding behind a computer screen does not make you untraceable. I hope today serves as an example that crimes of this nature do come with consequence.’ 

LAURA WITHERIDGE’S STATEMENT 

Laura Witheridge, whose sister Hannah was brutally murdered on the Thai holiday island of Koh Tao four years ago, said in a statement:

‘September is a difficult month. It was the month that my sister Hannah’s life was suddenly and unnecessarily cut short. This also sees it being the month that the trolling is at its worst.

‘I remember, vividly, every detail of the day we learnt of Hannah’s murder.

‘One of the details amongst my memories of that horrendous, life-changing day is the moment we were warned by the police that, due to the high profile nature of the case, we could expect to be targeted by internet trolls. I remember my disbelief~ my insistence that the information we were being given could not be true – after all, the worst thing possible had just happened to Hannah, why would anybody want to intensify our agony?

‘Now I know how very wrong I was. Within hours of Hannah’s murder hitting the headlines, the trolling began. Hundreds of message poured into my accounts on social media. Some were well-wishers. Others were not.

‘From fake offensive profiles, heinous messages, crime scene photos, to death threats – I was receiving them all. So, as you might expect, I came off social media and refrained from opening any further messages.

‘I didn’t delete my account entirely as I didn’t want to lose messages from Hannah. As the weeks passed, hundreds of unopened messages piled up. I learnt that no matter how much you privatise your Facebook profile, there is no way to stop people that you do not know, from sending you a message request.

‘I found myself having to regularly ask our police family liaison officer to log in on my behalf to clear out my message box. I reassured myself that, in time, these monsters would get bored and it would all stop.

‘Again, I was wrong. The quantity of messages has reduced over the past four years but they have not stopped. Just earlier this year, things were particularly bad, but one of the main offender’s IP address was found to be in the United States, so, like all the times before, nothing could be done.

‘Losing someone you love, suddenly, in tragic circumstances is the most painful thing imaginable. I don’t believe that, unless you have been in such a position, you can truly comprehend how torturous and unbearable it is.

‘I have tried as hard as I am able, to keep Hannah’s memory alive and to push on and be the best that I can be, because I know it is what she would want me to do – Hannah was beautiful inside and out. She was ambitious and hard-working and saw the best in everyone.

‘She was half way through her Masters degree in Speech and Language Therapy when she died. She would have gone on to make a difference to the lives of many.

‘The trolling incident that found me phoning the police back in March this year, and which is relevant to the sentencing today was one of the most callous and cowardly I have had to endure. This one was deeply rooted, especially dark and unusual.

‘It was obviously invented and executed to upset my family and those who loved Hannah but, unlike the others, it was as much of an attack on Hannah as it was on my family.

‘Creating an offensive, inaccurate, fraudulent twitter profile in Hannah’s name and following everyone from the friends list of her authentic profile saw this particular offender stooping to new lows.

‘Photos were stolen from Hannah’s accounts and the profile biography created was cruel, completely inaccurate and callous. Sending me crime scene photos and death threats is one thing, but creating a fake profile in the name of a victim of a brutal murder is something else entirely. Hannah is unable to defend herself.

‘Trolling the living is terrible enough, but targeting the deceased is an absolute atrocity. Even though the likely motivation was to cause distress to Hannah’s loved ones, the fact that her identity was fraudulently used to achieve this is despicable.

‘I have somehow found the strength and courage to try and live as normal a life as I can since we lost Hannah.I work full time, I contribute to society and, other than attending the trial of Hannah’s murderers in Thailand, today is the first time I have attended court.

‘Some days, even getting out of bed seems impossible, but I do it anyway. I have never used the tragedy, which was bestowed upon my family, as an excuse.

‘I have always plucked up the courage to push on. Doing so eats away at all of my emotional strength, and I have little left to spare on cowards who hide behind computer screens. It may not cause me physical harm, but the emotional harm is devastating.

Too many times you hear of the harm caused by trolls – lives cut short in some instances.

‘I think it is terrifying that we live in a world that is becoming more and more dominated by technology every day, yet we have so little control over it. Perhaps it is moving faster than we are.

‘I have spent four years being told, time and time again, that nothing can be done, which makes this particular case so poignant. It was in March, for the first time ever, I was told something could be done.

‘I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that today offers some justice for my family, and all of the other families involved in this case~ and I hope it sends a strong message that sitting in a dark room, hiding behind a computer screen does not make you untraceable.

‘I hope today serves as an example that crimes of this nature do come with consequence.’ 

The court heard just weeks after Miss Burt’s death in February this year, her Facebook page, which had been memorialised without her family’s knowledge, was ‘defaced with obscenities’ by Hind.

He set up a fake account using a slightly different spelling of Miss Burt’s name and used it to brand her a sex worker, post offensive comments and leave sickening replies to legitimate messages of condolences from her grieving family and friends.

Prosecutor Neil Pallister said Hind even defaced a photograph of Miss Burt and added: ‘Her teeth had been blacked out, a moustache had been drawn across her upper lip, silly fake eyebrows were drawn on.

‘To the left side of her face was four Swastikas. There was a line drawn across her neck on the photo, which said ‘cut here’.’

Miss Burt’s family branded Hind a ‘sick sadist’, and said the comments made them feel ‘physically sick’ and added to their tremendous heartache.

Her father Nigel stood in the witness box at the hearing at said the messages were a ‘desecration to her memory and character’.

He added: ‘It has made us both feel physically sick and caused us huge suffering.

‘Her death is still very recent and causing us tremendous hurt as we struggle to come to terms with the loss.

‘The person who carried out this can only be described as a sick sadist who knows they are adding to our anguish.’

Mr Burt said even though the offensive Facebook posts have now gone, he and his wife still expect them to appear and are caused additional anxiety because of it.

The court heard Hind had set up a fake Twitter account to troll Hannah Witheridge, four years after her murder in Thailand.

He set it up with a username ‘I love Thailand’ and followed many of her friends and family, using her name, and sent them sickening comments. 

The court heard Hind sent a Facebook message to the mother of Mr Tilley, just two days after his body was found in Columbia, where he had gone missing.

The message referred to her son being ‘in hell’ and when her husband rang Hind’s fake account via Facebook messenger, he was greeted with nothing but further abuse and ‘giggling’.

After the warning call, Hind sent the mother another message saying ‘f*** you’.

The family said they were ‘heartbroken’ after the loss and said in a statement, which was read by Mr Pallister: ‘What sort of person wallows in someone else’s misery?’

Hind had also set up a Facebook account in relation to student Mr Sim and made repeated posts saying ‘dead’, ‘dead’, ‘dead’ and referred to people ‘looking in the wrong place’ before his body was eventually found, causing huge distress to his loved ones.

Hind admitted he carried out his crimes when he was ‘bored’, for ‘attention’ and told police he thought ‘some people may have found them funny or amusing’.

He had taken screenshots of some of the abuse so he could show a friend and they ‘both could laugh’.

Hind said at an earlier court hearing: ‘I targeted dead people because perhaps I knew that deceased people could not fight back, which is a really cowardly thing to do.

‘I knew they couldn’t say anything because they were dead, unfortunately.’

Hind, of Wark, Northumberland, admitted four charges of sending a letter, communication or article conveying false information.

Judge Penny Moreland said the offences were of ‘unbelievable callousness’ and she told Hind: ‘You targeted bereaved families with obscene and offensive messages.’

Judge Moreland said: ‘It is hard to understand how anyone could do that.

‘You heard what you did to those people, they have described the devastating effect upon them.

‘It is horrific to hear from Miss Witheridge that the police warned her that families could expect to be victims of torment, of offensive and abuse messages in the wake of such bereavement.

‘It is dreadful to hear yours was were the most cowardly and callous of them.’

Jessica Slaughter, defending Hind, said the offences were ‘despicable’ and added: ‘No-one acknowledges that more than Mr Hind himself.

‘He wishes to apologise to the victims’ parents and families.’

Miss Slaughter said Hind, who lived at home with his parents and had recently lost his job, had been ‘going through a depressive episode’ when the crimes were carried out, which was between March and May this year.

She added: ‘He was spending more and more time at home, at his parents’ address where he lived, on the internet.

‘He was in his own little bubble, clearly unaware of what was happening in the world in terms of other people’s feelings.’

Acting Detective Inspector Lindsay Banks-Brown, from Durham Constabulary, said: ‘We are pleased with today’s outcome and hope it sends a clear message that we treat trolling as a serious offence which brings serious consequences.

‘The families of Hind’s victims have suffered an unimaginable tragedy and his actions have only compounded their suffering.

‘I hope today’s sentence serves as a warning to others that if they commit such offences, they will be dealt with and they will be brought to justice.

‘A joint investigation by Durham Constabulary and Durham County Council into Olivia’s death remains ongoing and we are following a number of lines of inquiry.

‘Our thoughts remain with Olivia’s family and friends during what has been, and continues to be, an extremely difficult time.’

The family of Miss Burt, a British sailing team member, pictured, branded Hind a 'sadist' and said the comments he left made them 'physically sick'

The family of Miss Burt, a British sailing team member, pictured, branded Hind a ‘sadist’ and said the comments he left made them ‘physically sick’

Acting Detective Inspector Lindsay Banks-Brown, pictured, from Durham Constabulary, said the sentence sent a message to trolls that they face serious consequences

Acting Detective Inspector Lindsay Banks-Brown, pictured, from Durham Constabulary, said the sentence sent a message to trolls that they face serious consequences

Detective Inspector Matt Dyson of Norfolk Police said: ‘This is a case that remains deeply personal to the victims. By directly targeting family members of Hannah Witheridge the messages he sent were clearly criminal and particularly distasteful.

‘Norfolk Police will continue to actively identify and prosecute any people that may carry out similar acts in the future and we continue to support Hannah’s family.’ 

PC Lesley Newman, the officer in charge of the case, added: ‘The actions of Paul Hind were truly despicable and have caused untold upset to the families of those he targeted.

‘Already struggling to come to terms with the death of a much-loved family member, they have then been subjected to this horrendous ordeal by Hind.

‘I want to take this opportunity to praise the families for the incredible bravery they have displayed throughout this process.

‘I would also like to thank the various teams, including those from other force areas and agencies, who have all come together to help ensure Hind was made to answer for his crimes.’ 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk