Internet troll heaped ‘vitriolic abuse’ on victim via Facebook
An internet troll who heaped abuse on a man after they fell out during a conversation on Facebook has been given a suspended prison sentence.
Hugh Abercrombie and Paul Ponting were 'friends' on a public page who took different sides in a debate about police activity in the US, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.
The disagreement became so heated that the 42-year-old defendant started posting unjustified, homophobic comments about his opponent and appeared to be urging others to do the same, said Mr Howard Searle, prosecuting.
Among the messages were: 'I will track this guy down' and 'I will beat him to death,' the court was told. The prosecutor continued: "The other man was distressed, felt threatened and feared for his own safety."
Mr Ponting, who is married with a family, confirmed in a statement to police: "I think I am thick skinned and can take part in debates without taking offence. But on this occasion I was publicly called a paedophile and threatened with violence."
Mr Andrew Mitchinson, defending, explained: "The complainant set his Facebook page so others can see it and appears to be dedicated to fighting police corruption. The defendant is very much pro police. What started out as a reasonable, healthy debate turned into name calling.
"These are two men with too much time on their hands. The defendant is the carer for his mother with whom he lives. He is also involved in the running of a martial arts club in Wolverhampton."
Abercrombie, from Stafford Road, Oxley, who was of previous good character, pleaded guilty to sending grossly offensive and homophobic Facebook messages between October 20 and October 24 last year.
Judge Peter Barrie gave him a 10 week jail sentence, suspended for a year, with 60 hours unpaid work and £300 costs.
He told the defendant: "This is an offence of our time. The internet offers great freedom of communication but can create a protective feeling that the person at the other end of the communication is not really there.
"I would like to think if you had been sitting face to face in a pub you would not have said any of this. It was abusive and taken very seriously.
"It was based on a completely misconceived belief that the other person had an interest in children and you were whipping up feelings against him. It was a free-for-all on the internet that was not only harmful but potentially very dangerous."
"You need to exercise self control, which does not come easily, because the harm caused by this kind of vitriolic abuse can be just as real as if it had happened face to face."