Saturday 17 March 2018

Teenager sues Irish politician after 'he identified her as a hooligan on Facebook'

Justice Committee Paul Frew alleged to have breached 14-year-old's right to privacy

Paul Frew DUP MLA for North Antrim (Photo: Twitter)
Paul Frew DUP MLA for North Antrim (Photo: Twitter)

Nevin Farrell

The chair of Stormont's Justice Committee is being sued for damages after allegedly breaching the rights of a teenager he named as being linked to antisocial behaviour in a Co Antrim village and town.

North Antrim DUP MLA Paul Frew is at the centre of a case brought before a court in Coleraine yesterday.

The hearing was told that after an increase of reports of trouble in Broughshane, Mr Frew named the 14-year-old girl - who for legal reasons cannot be identified - on Facebook.

The girl's father, who also cannot be named in order to protect his daughter's identity, told the court he was amazed that somebody in Mr Frew's position of authority would names of teenagers on social media linking them to antisocial behaviour.

The incidents in question are said to extend beyond Broughshane and into Ballymena's Harryville area, where the politician alleged a door belonging to him was kicked in.

Mr Frew watched on from the public gallery as the case was adjourned until a date in July, when it is expected that the Stormont Justice Committee chairman's arguments will be outlined.

Barrister Julie Ellison, acting for the girl, claimed Mr Frew published names he said were involved in antisocial behaviour in the village on his Facebook page and on a Broughshane community page.

She added that he had alleged that her client was involved in "specific incidents" and added that the politician had been in touch with the girl via private messages on Facebook.

The chairman of the Justice Committee is alleged to have made the comments earlier this year, before he took up the job at Stormont.

Ms Ellison said Mr Frew was in a position of considerable authority as an MLA and had inappropriately dealt with the issue.

She alleged the publication of the names "heightened the difficulty" because his posts then led to comments from others that she claimed could "incite members of the community, particularly to vigilante activity".

The barrister said the action was being taken against Mr Frew over the teenager's right to be protected from harassment and the politician's alleged misuse of her private information.

Mr Frew's defence lawyer, Gary McHugh, said that while the plaintiff's claim was for £5,000 for personal injury, there was no evidence of any injury.

The girl's father said his daughter had been "branded" by the MLA's actions as being part of the "Broughshane Hoods".

He claimed the teenager was now constantly nervous and said: "People are making comments as she walks along the street, and people are giving her dirty looks".

The father also described how collecting his daughter when she gets off the school bus was now a trying occasion.

"It has nearly branded us as a family as something we are not through the actions of this man," he told the court.

He said he was alerted his daughter had been named on social media in February this year, after which he took screen grabs of the alleged posts, one of which is said to feature Mr Frew mentioning an incident in which the door of a property belonging to him was "kicked off" its hinges.

Reference was also made to an alleged message from the politician in which it was claimed he said he had given chase, had caught those involved and had a "list of the culprits".

Ms Ellison said her client's alleged involvement in antisocial behaviour was not the point, rather that the defendant should not have taken "matters into his own hands" by allegedly publishing the girl's name on a public forum and claiming she was involved in a criminal offence.

In the witness box, the girl's father told the court that he could not believe "that somebody in this man's position could name my child to so many people and have no evidence". He added that after he heard his daughter had been named, he went to the police and sought legal advice.

The court was told a message from Mr Frew on social media said he had followed a number of people on several occasions and at times would Have been "within a metre of them, without them knowing".

Afterwards, the father said he was shocked that someone in Mr Frew's position would allegedly follow youngsters.

The hearing was told that after the girl's name was allegedly published, other people referred to "naming and shaming" those involved and made comments after dealing with the children, which made the girl's father fear for her safety.

Among the comments made by individuals other than Mr Frew were ones suggesting "beating the s***" out of the offenders, taking people out and "teaching them some manners", "hanging them from the trees" and getting the QRF involved.

The father said he took QRF to mean Quick Reaction Force and believed it could have a link to paramilitary groups.

The court also heard how the father was concerned that Mr Frew contacted his daughter via private message.

He said the police had never spoken to her in relation to the antisocial behaviour and that she was now unfairly labelled.

Cross-examined by Mr Frew's barrister, the father was asked if he accepted that the defendant had made no comment about how youths should be dealt with. He replied: "I accept that, but at no stage did he counteract that."

Barrister Mr McHugh said Mr Frew had information he was referring to the police.

The lawyer claimed there had been a series of incidents, stretching as far back as the previous Halloween, of young people in Broughshane indulging in antisocial behaviour, including knocking doors and spreading food carry-outs over properties.

When the barrister asked what the reference to the QRF had to do with Mr Frew, the girl's father said the politician had been engaging in a Facebook conversation about it.

Mr McHugh also claimed it was never his client's intention to meet the girl one-on-one.

he argued that the claim by the plaintiff centred on getting money for damages by alleging Mr Frew was harassing her, yet the private messages were initiated by her.

The girl's father accepted she started the messages, but not the original Facebook posts.

Before the case was adjourned, a police officer told the court that while there had been a "noticeable spike" in antisocial behaviour in Broughshane and Harryville, it had since reduced significantly.

Belfast Telegraph

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