Thomas Berry, from Dorchester, Dorset, pleaded guilty to stalking charges after he set up multiple Instagram accounts in his ex-partner’s name, promising naked pictures of strange men and suggesting she had made pornography videos on OnlyFans
Image: Graham Hunt/BNPS)
A dumped friend who harbored a secret 10-year grudge against his high school friend created fake social media accounts in her name to get revenge.
Thomas Berry, 26, who posed as her on social media, sent racy messages to random men and promised to send them nude photos.
His “long-standing obsession” with Ellie Steele lasted for years, though she had no other contact after leaving him when she was 16, the court heard.
When Berry, from Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, was eventually arrested, he told police he had never forgiven her and wanted to upset her for hurting him.
According to Mr. Spellman, the prosecutor, Mr. Berry also boasted about being “extremely IT savvy and being able to create the social media accounts with ease.”
Berry also made it appear that Ms Steele was making porn videos on the OnlyFans website.
Mr Berry pleaded guilty to once stalking Ms Steele between May and October last year.
He avoided jail and instead received a five-year restraining order.
Judges told Berry he “almost” went to jail.
The harassment campaign began when she got a job at the same non-league football club where he was football coach and social media officer, Dorchester Town FC.
Berry’s resentment bubbled to the surface and he began creating dozens of Instagram profiles in her name, which continued until his arrest in December.
Ms Steele, 26, only discovered the fake accounts when she received messages from strangers asking for the videos and pictures she appeared to have promised them.
Although she reported the accounts to Instagram, Berry deactivated them before he could be caught, only to start new ones in their place.
At worst, Ms. Steele counted four new profiles in a single week.
She began to suspect that it could be Berry because pictures of her taken at school and at the football club were posted on the profiles.
He was eventually upset when he messaged Ms Steele’s friends and revealed details about her that only he knew.
Jason Spellman, prosecutor, told Poole Magistrates’ Court that Berry’s actions shocked and embarrassed his victim.
He said: “This is a rather worrying case because of the defendant’s efforts but also because they have not been in contact for a considerable period of time (prior to the offence).
“What appears to have motivated this is a longstanding obsession by the defendant with the victim.
“They had a brief relationship when they were both 14, which was ended by the victim after two and a half years.
“When he was arrested, he told police he had never forgiven her and that he was trolling her for hurting him.
“He said he was extremely IT savvy and could set up the social media accounts with ease.”
Describing an Instagram bio that suggested Ms Steele was modeled after OnlyFans, a pornographic subscription platform, Mr Spellman said: “You can imagine the sense of horror and embarrassment she felt upon hearing this.
“The efforts he has put in make this offense even more serious – it shows an element of subterfuge.”
Although the charge covered a five-month period, Ms Steele said the campaign has lasted six years since she began working at Dorchester Town FC.
She became so anxious that she quit her job and stopped seeing friends, fearing that someone was following her.
In her statement to police, which was read in court, Ms Steele said: “This is worrying to me because I don’t know what it might contain.
“Tom is fixated on me. We have known each other for 10 years.
“This person knows where I work, where I live and what university I went to.
“I feel like someone else is controlling my life and affecting my reputation with people who don’t know me.
“I stopped using social media. I don’t trust anyone anymore. I’ve lost all my confidence.
“I worry about when this will stop and what happens next. Will there be an escalation?”
In her speech today, she said social media companies should take greater responsibility to shut down fake accounts so no one else has to experience what she did.
Although Berry’s accounts have been repeatedly reported, she said they were never removed and one Snapchat account is still active today, she said.
Ms Steele said: “Technology is moving so fast that our laws are not keeping up. It’s way too easy to set up multiple accounts – I would definitely advocate some sort of identity verification.
“I kept reporting Tom’s Instagram accounts for identity theft, but none of them were ever removed – he just disabled them, then re-enabled them or created new ones.
“Social media companies need to pay more attention to what’s going on.
“As long as there are users on their platform, they don’t care how people are treated.
“People’s lives are being ruined and they just don’t care. I don’t want anyone to experience what I did.”
Mrs Steele’s case comes in the same week. Research by England’s Children’s Ombudsman Dame Rachel de Souza found that four in 10 children have tried and failed in the past month to get social media platforms to remove harmful content about them.
Speaking to the court itself, Berry said: “I want to state how sorry and stupid I feel for my actions. I feel like a different person than I did then.
“I know there’s nothing I can do to take it back, but if I could I would do everything in my power to do so.”
As well as having to do 250 hours of unpaid work, Berry was ordered to pay Ms Steele £400 in compensation and was banned from creating social media accounts related to her.
After the hearing, Miss Steele’s mother, Alison Steele, 53, said she was “disappointed” with the result.
She said: “This was a 10-year obsession so we hoped the restraining order would be indefinite.
“It would have reassured my daughter that he wasn’t going to start again.
“This is persistent and it was four years before he last started.
“She moved to university but when she came back to work at the club it triggered him.
“Up until his arrest in December, he was still making up bills.
“It completely controlled Ellie’s life. She is receiving therapy.
“She quit her job at the club, which she loved, because she felt judged and afraid to leave the house.
“At one point I had to take her to work because she was afraid someone would follow her.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jilted-ex-boyfriend-creates-fake-27096224 Abandoned Ex-Boyfriend Creates Fake Social Media Accounts in 10-Year Revenge Plan