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‘Cruel, completely inaccurate and callous’ - family describe anguish as Hannah Witheridge troll jailed

PUBLISHED: 07:16 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 12:44 16 November 2018

Hannah Witheridge who was murdered in Koh Tao Picture: supplied

Hannah Witheridge who was murdered in Koh Tao Picture: supplied

Archant

The sister of murder victim Hannah Witheridge has described as an “absolute atrocity” the actions of a tormenter troll who set up a “dark and unusual” fake profile in her name.

Paul Hind, 38, speaks to the media outside South East Northumberland Magistrates' Court, where he admitted trolling relatives of young people who died in tragic circumstances. Picture: PA Wire/PA ImagesPaul Hind, 38, speaks to the media outside South East Northumberland Magistrates' Court, where he admitted trolling relatives of young people who died in tragic circumstances. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

Laura Witheridge’s comments came as Paul Hind was handed 14 months in prison for targeting four families, including Hannah’s, with “indecent or grossly offensive” material.

The brutal murder of Hannah Witheridge from Hemsby on the Thai island of Koh Tao four years ago sent shockwaves across the world and sent Norfolk into mourning.

In a statement Miss Witheridge described the distress Hind’s action had caused and outlined her hopes the sentence will serve as a warning to others.

She said: “The trolling incident that found me phoning the police back in March this year, and which is relevant to the sentencing today was one of the most callous and cowardly I have had to endure.

“This one was deeply rooted, especially dark and unusual.

“It was obviously invented and executed to upset my family and those who loved Hannah but, unlike the others, it was as much of an attack on Hannah as it was on my family.

“Creating an offensive, inaccurate, fraudulent twitter profile in Hannah’s name and following everyone from the friends list of her authentic profile saw this particular offender stooping to new lows.

“Photos were stolen from Hannah’s accounts and the profile biography created was cruel, completely inaccurate and callous.

“Sending me crime scene photos and death threats is one thing, but creating a fake profile in the name of a victim of a brutal murder is something else entirely.

“Hannah is unable to defend herself. Trolling the living is terrible enough, but targeting the deceased is an absolute atrocity.

“Losing someone you love, suddenly, in tragic circumstances is the most painful thing imaginable. I don’t believe that, unless you have been in such a position, you can truly comprehend how torturous and unbearable it is.

“Back in March, for the first time ever, I was told something could be done. I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that today offers some justice for my family, and all of the other families involved in this case… and I hope it sends a strong message that sitting in a dark room, hiding behind a computer screen does not make you untraceable. I hope today serves as an example that crimes of this nature do come with consequence.”

Paul Hind, 38, from Hexham, Northumberland appeared at Newcastle Magistrates Court on Thursday August 30 and pleaded guilty to four separate offences of conveying false and indecent information which was indecent or grossly offensive.

In addition to the death of Hannah Witheridge, Hind also targeted the families of Olivia Burt from Hampshire, who was found dead outside a nightclub in Durham in Februrary, Leicester’s Joe Tilley, 24, who was found dead at the bottom of a waterfall in Colombia in May and 19-year-old Duncan Sim, from Duns, in the Scottish Borders, whose remains were found at West Sands in St Andrews earlier this year.

Detective Inspector Matt Dyson said: “This is a case that remains deeply personal to the victims.

“By directly targeting family members of Hannah Witheridge the messages he sent were clearly criminal and particularly distasteful.

“Norfolk Police will continue to actively identify and prosecute any people that may carry out similar acts in the future and we continue to support Hannah’s family.”

The statement in full

September is a difficult month. It was the month that my sister Hannah’s life was suddenly and unnecessarily cut short.

This also sees it being the month that the trolling is at its worst.

I remember, vividly, every detail of the day we learnt of Hannah’s murder.

One of the details amongst my memories of that horrendous, life-changing day is the moment we were warned by the police that, due to the high profile nature of the case, we could expect to be targeted by internet trolls. I remember my disbelief… my insistence that the information we were being given could not be true… after all, the worst thing possible had just happened to Hannah, why would anybody want to intensify our agony?

Now, of course, I know how very wrong I was. Within hours of Hannah’s murder hitting the headlines, the trolling began.

Hundreds of message poured into my accounts on social media.

Some were well-wishers. Others were not.

From fake offensive profiles, heinous messages, crime scene photos, to death threats… I was receiving them all. So, as you might expect, I came off social media and refrained from opening any further messages.

I didn’t delete my account entirely as I didn’t want to lose messages from Hannah. As the weeks passed, hundreds of unopened messages piled up.

I learnt that no matter how much you privatise your Facebook profile, there is no way to stop people that you do not know, from sending you a message request.

I found myself having to regularly ask our police family liaison officer to log in on my behalf to clear out my message box.

I reassured myself that, in time, these monsters would get bored and it would all stop.

Again, I was wrong. The quantity of messages has reduced over the past four years but they have not stopped. Just earlier this year, things were particularly bad, but one of the main offender’s IP address was found to be in the United States, so, like all the times before, nothing could be done.

Losing someone you love, suddenly, in tragic circumstances is the most painful thing imaginable. I don’t believe that, unless you have been in such a position, you can truly comprehend how torturous and unbearable it is.

I have tried as hard as I am able, to keep Hannah’s memory alive and to push on and be the best that I can be, because I know it is what she would want me to do… Hannah was beautiful inside and out.

She was ambitious and hard working and saw the best in everyone.

She was half way through her Masters degree in Speech and Language Therapy when she died. She would have gone on to make a difference to the lives of many.

The trolling incident that found me phoning the police back in March this year, and which is relevant to the sentencing today was one of the most callous and cowardly I have had to endure.

This one was deeply rooted, especially dark and unusual.

It was obviously invented and executed to upset my family and those who loved Hannah but, unlike the others, it was as much of an attack on Hannah as it was on my family.

Creating an offensive, inaccurate, fraudulent twitter profile in Hannah’s name and following everyone from the friends list of her authentic profile saw this particular offender stooping to new lows.

Photos were stolen from Hannah’s accounts and the profile biography created was cruel, completely inaccurate and callous.

Sending me crime scene photos and death threats is one thing, but creating a fake profile in the name of a victim of a brutal murder is something else entirely. Hannah is unable to defend herself.

Trolling the living is terrible enough, but targeting the deceased is an absolute atrocity. Even though the likely motivation was to cause distress to Hannah’s loved ones, the fact that her identity was fraudulently used to achieve this is despicable.

I have somehow found the strength and courage to try and live as normal a life as I can since we lost Hannah.

I work full time, I contribute to society and, other than attending the trial of Hannah’s murderers in Thailand, today is the first time I have attended court.

Some days, even getting out of bed seems impossible, but I do it anyway.

I have never used the tragedy, which was bestowed upon my family, as an excuse.

Despite very depleted stores, I have always plucked up the courage to push on. Doing so eats away at all of my emotional strength, and I have little left to spare on cowards who hide behind computer screens. It may not cause me physical harm, but the emotional harm is devastating.

Too many times you hear of the harm caused by trolls.

Lives cut short in some instances.

I think it is terrifying that we live in a world that is becoming more and more dominated by technology every day, yet we have so little control over it.

Perhaps it is moving faster than we are.

I have spent 4 years being told, time and time again, that nothing can be done, which makes this particular case so poignant.

Back in March, for the first time ever, I was told something could be done.

I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that today offers some justice for my family, and all of the other families involved in this case… and I hope it sends a strong message that sitting in a dark room, hiding behind a computer screen does not make you untraceable.

I hope today serves as an example that crimes of this nature do come with consequence.

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