by Chris Greenwood
A mother who joined a revenge attack on a man responsible for a vile campaign of internet abuse against her disabled daughter has been spared prison.
Sylvia Hooper, 52, was described as a ‘decent and law-abiding’ woman who dedicated her life to her seriously ill daughter Kim Arnold. But she snapped after looking on helplessly as a cowardly bully sent her daughter a series of appalling comments via Facebook.
Mrs Hooper faced a jail sentence after identifying Christopher Berwick and confronting him outside his home in Chatham, Kent.
But a judge – who labelled the messages ‘disgraceful and shameful’ – took pity on Mrs Hooper after hearing they were part of a long-term campaign.
The case is the latest evidence of the growing impact of online bullying and abuse through social networking sites. Known as ‘trolling’, it sees abusers, who often hide behind a veil of anonymity or false identities, deluging their victims with cruel taunts. Campaigners have repeatedly called for websites to take swifter action against the ‘trolls’.
Miss Arnold was sent a series of messages via a false Facebook account that left her deeply depressed, Maidstone Crown Court was told. One labelled her a cripple and said that Miss Arnold, who is a wheelchair user, should be left to ‘roll down a hill'.
A judge at Maidstone Crown Court labelled the messages 'shameful' and took pity on Mrs Hooper after hearing they were part of a long-term campaign.
Another message read: ‘Your mother should have had an abortion. She only had you because she felt sorry for you.’
Mrs Hooper realised the culprit was Mr Berwick, who lived nearby, and joined her son Robert and his friend Soloman Taylor outside his home. Mr Hooper, 19, punched Mr Berwick after his mother said ‘hit him’ and the bully was then taken back to the family home by car. He was forced to crawl inside and make a ‘grovelling apology’ to his victim while on all fours. At one point he was hit on the chin with a rolled up newspaper.
Prosecutor Neil Sandys said Mr Berwick originally tried to blame his then girlfriend but eventually admitted being responsible. He said the Facebook exchange was ‘low, mean, base and shameful’ and added that Mr Berwick admitted doing it before.
Mrs Hooper’s solicitor Catharine Donnelly said the comments were ‘beyond the pale’ and told the court ‘none of us would be here today’ without his actions.
Speaking about Mrs Hooper, she said: ‘She is a decent woman who has devoted herself to her daughter. She has led a decent and law-abiding life. It is clear she is a woman who will never trouble these courts again. She was an encourager, rather than a hitter.’
Danny Moore, for Mr Hooper, said Mr Berwick got a kick out of ‘playing mind games with a severely disabled young lady’.
He highlighted how police told the victims there was nothing they could do and the bully was not prosecuted for sending malicious messages.
All three admitted assault but denied false imprisonment and the judge ruled that not guilty verdicts should be entered.
Judge Richard Polden said it ‘troubled him’ that Mrs Hooper had said, ‘hit him’, but accepted that Mr Hooper was acting out of a ‘protective instinct’ to his sister. He said: ‘I sentence you on the basis that Mr Berwick sent messages that were wholly disgraceful and shameful but then tried to put the blame on his girlfriend.’
Mrs Hooper was given a conditional discharge.
The two men were given community orders which included voluntary work.