Facebook challenge sex offender 'at risk of attack'

High Court, Belfast

A convicted sex offender could face attack due to vitriolic comments published on a Facebook page set up to monitor paedophiles in Northern Ireland, the High Court has heard.

Lawyers for the man, who cannot be named, claimed there was a risk of users ganging up to find him.

They want the social networking site to be ordered to remove the page.

They also want those who set up the page 'Keeping our kids safe from predators' identified.

The man who has brought the case is currently out on licence after serving a prison sentence for sexual offences.

Following his release he discovered that his photo and threatening comments had been posted online.

He is claiming harassment, misuse of private information, and a breach of his human rights.

Although Facebook has already removed his photograph and comments made about him, his barrister argued that the page should be shut down down.

The court heard details of some comments posted since his injunction proceedings were disclosed.

Fear and anxiety

One said: "So the man, or I mean mess of a human being, that's taken this page to court, he must want to be the head paedophile and rule over all sex offenders. He will be like a god to them."

Mr Justice McCloskey was shown another post which stated: "Put him down like an animal."

His barrister, Julie Ellison, said another posting claimed to know a way around the ban on identifying her client.

She said: "The risk, the plaintiff would say, is that this sort of vitriol will translate into physical action of some type either against the plaintiff personally or against him and his property."

Ms Ellison told the court that the comments were causing her client fear and anxiety.

She added that the man's photograph had been obtained and published on the site without his consent.

"In essence, the plaintiff is seeking that the page be removed in its entirety," she confirmed.

"There is a real risk, we say, that it will facilitate people to come together or to obtain information, maybe through a private message facility, to find out where he lives and those with criminal intent will carry out some sort of reprisal attack on the plaintiff or his property."

Peter Hopkins, for the defendant Facebook Ireland Ltd, argued that it was neither necessary nor proportionate to remove a page used by thousands of people.

He stressed that there are now no photos of the man or any details about where he lives on the page.

Mr Hopkins set out how Facebook found itself "walking a fine line" between the rights of its users and the privacy of others.

He asked: "Will it give the plaintiff any benefit to shut down this site and deprive 4,000 users of their freedom of expression, the vast amount of which is legitimate debate on sex offenders?"

After hearing both sides Mr Justice McCloskey asked for a list of any allegedly threatening or relevant comments before deciding whether to grant the order sought.

He said: "It's for the plaintiff to choose his targets and formulate his case accordingly."

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