(U.K.) An innocent student who had his name blackened on the internet has comprehensively cleared his name – thanks to the Irish Mail on Sunday.
Dublin student Eoin McKeogh, accused of dodging a €50 taxi fare, has laid bare how the internet can destroy a blameless person's reputation in seconds and put people in the horrifying position of either leaving vile allegations in the public domain or pursuing a difficult and costly legal battle through the courts that will attract more attention from the media.
The entire episode has proven how social media such as Facebook and Twitter constitute something of a Wild West when it comes to laws of defamation, where anonymous users can accuse innocent people of crimes without any proof, in a spiralling nightmare of libel and slander.
Mr McKeogh's ordeal began in December when a taxi driver posted a video taken inside his cab on YouTube of a young man running from his taxi without paying the fare.
The video – dated November 13 – clearly shows the man's face and a friend can be heard calling him 'Eoin'.
Within hours, the video had spread to Facebook, Twitter and other internet forums. One anonymous viewer commented on YouTube – wrongly – that the culprit was Eoin McKeogh.
Soon, his name spread across the internet and social media sites and people began sending vitriolic messages to Mr McKeogh's Facebook page calling him a 'scumbag', a 'thief' and worse.
In January, he went to the gardaí twice to see what could be done, before taking legal advice. The matter came before the courts for the first time on January 10. During that hearing, Mr McKeogh provided the judge with his passport, which showed he had entered Japan on November 11 and left the Far East on November 22.
The video was filmed on November 13, while Mr McKeogh was studying in Japan.
'I was not and could not have been the person in the video,' he said in his affidavit to the court, where he is seeking an injunction to have the video permanently removed from the web.
Since the case was reported and he was named in certain newspapers, he is now also seeking an injunction to stop them naming him again.
His senior counsel, Pauline Whalley, told the court that on January 13, the taxi driver appeared in court and gave evidence that the taxi fare evader was not Eoin McKeogh and that he didn't even look like the culprit.
The driver apologised to Mr McKeogh for the trouble the video had caused, saying it was a 'terrible thing' to happen to him. 'He shook my hand and apologised,' said Mr McKeogh in his affidavit. The High Court granted him a temporary injunction on Tuesday against Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo and Google from hosting the video online for a week. A subsequent full hearing into his effort to gain injunctions against six newspapers began yesterday but was adjourned last night until today.
Mr McKeogh said he thought his nightmare was over but that he was still being accused online following court reports of the case.
'I was shocked to see all the postings [on the internet]. They all presumed I was guilty… and attempting to gag the media. I also had a fake Facebook page created.'
In a desperate attempt to clear his name, he even replied to tormentors online, sending them a photograph of himself and his boarding pass from his flight from Tokyo with his travel dates clearly visible.
One website, Broadsheet.ie, reproduced the photograph and a link to the video and told readers: 'You decide.'
According to his legal team, internet commentators continued to accuse Mr McKeogh and posted: 'Why the f*** do injunctions exist? I hope the f*** it blights his career.'
Yesterday afternoon in Court 45, Mr McKeogh asked for an injunction against several newspapers to stop them from printing his name in relation to the case and the video.
Barrister Miss Whalley was critical of the media for not reporting his innocence in the stories and argued against newspapers naming him again due to the public perception that there is no smoke without fire.
She said: 'People believe on a massive scale that he's guilty.'
In response, Mr Justice Michael Peart said: 'The smoke will remain thick – perhaps diluted, as it could not be and was not him.'
Mr Justice Peart said he would consider his decision overnight and make a ruling today at 2.30pm.
Despite offering incontrovertible proof in court that it wasn't him and successfully getting an injunction against YouTube showing the video, the footage was back on the website last night with users identifying him as the culprit, calling him a 'scumbag' and other highly derogatory comments.
The 22-year-old told the packed court yesterday how malicious allegations has ruined his life and could irreversibly damage his promising academic prospects.
Following the successful injunction, 95 per cent of the material posted online about Mr McKeogh was removed.
However, the following day, media organisations reported the court case and according to Miss Whalley 'it went viral again' with people 'saying he was guilty, he can pay high wages of lawyers but not a taxi fare.'
She said her client was not a Seán Quinn or a Seán FitzPatrick but 'an ordinary kid going through college and getting on with his life.
'With a few key strokes, you can destroy a person's reputation,' the barrister said.
Judge Peart described it as 'strange' that newspaper did not include the proof of his innocence in their reports.