Police close probe into troll accounts

Councillors Gareth Fairhurst and George Fairhurst, right
Councillors Gareth Fairhurst and George Fairhurst, right

A police probe into social media trolls who targeted a Wigan councillor with malicious messages on Twitter has ground to a halt.

Greater Manchester Police launched an investigation in May last year but it has now closed due to an unlikely prospect of prosecution.

Coun Gareth Fairhurst, whose family were subjected to grossly offensive abuse by two parody accounts, told the Evening Post the decision was “deeply disappointing.”

A GMP spokesman said the case had closed due to a “lack of investigational possibilities.”

The parody accounts emerged shortly after the 2015 elections and posted several offensive tweets posing as the Standish Independents group leader.

Coun Fairhurst said: “It is disappointing that social media is being used in this way and people like this can hide behind their fake accounts.

“I understand that GMP had written to Twitter requesting information about the accounts but have now contacted me to say the case is going no further.

“I also wrote to Twitter to urge them to co-operate. It is deeply disappointing (the investigation has closed) because it was sick what was written on those accounts.”

The Fairhurst family is prominent within the borough’s political scene with Coun Fairhurst’s wife Debbie and father George also representing Standish on Wigan Council.

His sister, Angie Bland, is a parish councillor in Shevington and a former borough representative.

Twitter, the social media giant, permits parody accounts as long as they make their status clear.

Its help centre says impersonation is a violation of its rules, adding that accounts portraying another person “in a confusing or deceptive manner” may be permanently suspended. Soon after GMP launched its investigation, the two accounts became private meaning only certain followers could view them. They had previously been open for anyone to see.

Coun Fairhurst added that Twitter had closed down the accounts once complaints had been lodged.

And he welcomes new legislation which will mean harsher sentences for those who use fake profiles to post offensive material. He said: “I absolutely support this (new legislation), I hope the social media companies cooperate otherwise the new regulations won’t have much point.”

Social media guidelines are being updated by the Crown Prosecution Service to cover cases where offenders create false online accounts and websites. The CPS said: “For example, it may be a criminal offence if a profile is created under the name of the victim with fake information uploaded which could damage their reputation and humiliate them.”

Internet trolls who set up fake profiles in the name of their victims to post damaging or embarrassing material can face criminal charges, new advice for prosecutors says.

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said: “Offenders can mistakenly think that by using false online profiles and creating websites under a false name their offences are untraceable.

“Thankfully this is not the case and an online footprint will be left by the offender.” Social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook have facilities in place to report impersonation accounts.

Twitter’s help centre says impersonation is a violation of its rules, adding that accounts portraying another person “in a confusing or deceptive manner” may be permanently suspended.