'Sick sadist' internet troll targeted Facebook page in memory of dead student

Paul Hind
Paul Hind

A "sadist" internet troll who targeted Facebook pages dedicated to young people who had died in tragic circumstances has been jailed for 14 months.

Paul Hind left sickening comments on social media which mocked and insulted people who had passed away and caused extra heartache to their already devastated families because he was "bored".

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 38-year-old had defaced a memorial page belonging to Olivia Burt, a Durham University student who was crushed to death beneath a barrier as she queued to get into a nightclub.

He also targeted murdered backpacker Hannah Witheridge, who died in Thailand, Joe Tilley, who was found dead in South America and Duncan Sim, whose remains were found on St. Andrews beach.

Prosecutor Neil Pallister told the court: "The defendant posted what the Crown say were grossly offensive or abusive messages to Facebook accounts relating to people who were deceased."

The court heard just weeks after Olivia Burt's death in February this year, her Facebook page, which had been memorialised without her family's knowledge, was "defaced with obscenities" by Hind.

He set up a fake account using a slightly different spelling of Olivia's name and used it to brand her a sex worker, post offensive comments and leave sickening replies to legitimate messages of condolences from her grieving family and friends.

Mr Pallister said Hind even defaced a photograph of Olivia and added: "Her teeth had been blacked out, a moustache had been drawn across her upper lip, silly fake eyebrows were drawn on.

"To the left side of her face was four Swastikas.

"There was a line drawn across her neck on the photo, which said 'cut here'."

Olivia's family branded Hind a "sick sadist", said the comments made them feel "physically sick" and added to their tremendous heartache.

Her father Nigel Burt stood in the witness box at the hearing at said the messages were a "desecration to her memory and character".

He added: "It has made us both feel physically sick and caused us huge suffering.

"Her death is still very recent and causing us tremendous hurt as we struggle to come to terms with the loss.

"The person who carried out this can only be described as a sick sadist who knows they are adding to our anguish."

Mr Burt said even though the offensive Facebook posts have now gone, he and his wife still expect them to appear and are caused additional anxiety because of it.

The court heard Hind had set up a fake Twitter account to troll Hannah Witheridge, four years after her murder in Thailand.

He set it up with a username "I love Thailand" and followed many of her friends and family, using her name, and sent them sickening comments.

Hannah's grieving sister Laura Witheridge read her victim impact statement at the hearing and said the loss of her "beautiful" sibling had been the "most painful thing imaginable".

Miss Witheridge told the court the posts were "as much an attack on Hannah as it was on my family" and said the comments were "particularly cruel and callous".

She added: "Hannah is unable to defend herself.

"Trolling the living is terrible enough. Trolling the deceased is an absolute atrocity."

Miss Witheridge said police had warned her family there was a chance of abusive messages after the tragedy and that Hind's were the most "callous".

She branded those who "hide" behind their computers to send such vile messages "cowards" and added: "I hope the message goes out that crimes of this nature do come with consequences."

The court heard Hind sent a Facebook message to the mother of Joe Tilley, just two days after his body was found in Columbia, where he had gone missing.

The message referred to her son being "in hell" and when her husband rang Hind's fake account via Facebook messenger, he was greeted with nothing but further abuse and "giggling".

After the warning call, Hind sent the mother another message saying "**** you".

The family said they were "heartbroken" after the loss and said in a statement, which was read by Mr Pallister: "What sort of person wallows in someone else's misery?"

Hind had also set up a Facebook account in relation to student Duncan Sim and made repeated posts saying "dead", "dead", "dead" and referred to people "looking in the wrong place" before his body was eventually found, causing huge distress to his loved ones.

Hind admitted he carried out his crimes when he was "bored", for "attention" and told police he thought "some people may have found them funny or amusing".

He had taken screenshots of some of the abuse so he could show a friend and they "both could laugh".

He said after an earlier court hearing "I targeted dead people because perhaps I knew that deceased people could not fight back, which is a really cowardly thing to do.

"I knew they couldn't say anything because they were dead, unfortunately."

Hind, of Westacres, Wark, Northumberland, admitted four charges of sending a letter, communication or article conveying false information.

Judge Penny Moreland said the offences were of "unbelievable callousness" and she told Hind: "You targeted bereaved families with obscene and offensive messages."

Judge Moreland said "it is hard to understand how anyone could do that" and added: "You heard what you did to those people, they have described the devastating effect upon them.

"It is horrific to hear from Miss Witheridge that the police warned her that families could expect to be victims of torment, of offensive and abuse messages in the wake of such bereavement.

"It is dreadful to hear yours was were the most cowardly and callous of them."

Jessica Slaughter, defending Hind, said the offences were "despicable" and added: "No-one acknowledges that more than Mr Hind himself.

"He wishes to apologise to the victims' parents and families."

Miss Slaughter said Hind, who lived at home with his parents and had recently lost his job, had been "going through a depressive episode" when the crimes were carried out, which was between March and May this year.

She added: "He was spending more and more time at home, at his parents' address, where he lived on the internet.

"He was in his own little bubble, clearly unaware of what was happening in the world in terms of other people's feelings."

Acting Detective Inspector Lindsay Banks-Brown, from Durham Constabulary, said: "We are pleased with today's outcome and hope it sends a clear message that we treat trolling as a serious offence which brings serious consequences.

"The families of Hind's victims have suffered an unimaginable tragedy and his actions have only compounded their suffering.

"I hope today's sentence serves as a warning to others that if they commit such offences, they will be dealt with and they will be brought to justice.

"A joint investigation by Durham Constabulary and Durham County Council into Olivia's death remains ongoing and we are following a number of lines of enquiry.

"Our thoughts remain with Olivia's family and friends during what has been, and continues to be, an extremely difficult time."

PC Lesley Newman, the officer in charge of the case, added: "The actions of Paul Hind were truly despicable and have caused untold upset to the families of those he targeted.

"Already struggling to come to terms with the death of a much-loved family member, they have then been subjected to this horrendous ordeal by Hind.

"I want to take this opportunity to praise the families for the incredible bravery they have displayed throughout this process.

"I would also like to thank the various teams, including those from other force areas and agencies, who have all come together to help ensure Hind was made to answer for his crimes."

Olivia Burt

Olivia Burt

Olivia Burt's parents Nigel and Paula arrive at Newcastle Crown Court.

Olivia Burt's parents Nigel and Paula arrive at Newcastle Crown Court.