Northern Ireland news

Paul Frew ‘totally vindicated' after Facebook case dismissed

Paul Frew and his wife Julie leave Ballymena court. Picture by Mark Jamieson
Staff Reporter

THE DUP's Paul Frew has said he feels "totally vindicated" after a judge dismissed a claim for damages brought by a teenage girl over Facebook posts by the North Antrim MLA.

The 15-year-old took a case against the chair of Stormont's justice committee in connection with comments relating to anti-social behaviour in Broughshane and the Harryville area of Ballymena.

The girl - who cannot be identified - was named on Facebook by Mr Frew earlier this year.

She was not present at Ballymena Courthouse on Monday but her father sat feet away from Mr Frew, who was accompanied by his wife Julie as District Judge Philip Gilpin took over half an hour to read out a 17-page judgment.

The court heard the girl was legally assisted and she was ordered to pay the politician's costs.

The teenager previously told the county court she was the victim of a backlash and was subjected to "dirty looks" after being "branded" by Mr Frew as having links to a youth gang blamed for a spate of anti-social behaviour.

She said she feared walking through Broughshane, although she accepted no-one had actually challenged her.

Mr Frew (41) said he had been working with police and the girl's name had "cropped up" in the debate about what was happening and he hoped his comments might help move the situation forward.

In his judgment, Judge Gilpin said in late 2015 police were aware of concerns residents in Broughshane and Harryville had about gangs of up to 30 children aged 12-17 being involved in anti-social behaviour including throwing "eggs, stones and ball-bearings" at properties. Mr Frew had also been contacted by constituents.

Regarding the girl's claim of harassment, the judge found that the "impugned conduct did not constitute conduct of such seriousness that an actionable remedy could be provided".

He said he was satisfied Mr Frew had "acted throughout in good faith in making considerable attempts to address the issue of anti-social behaviour" in his constituency.

Judge Gilpin said an allegation was also made that the posts amounted to misuse of the girl's private information.

However, he said when the girl went on Facebook about the situation she could not claim to enjoy an expectation of privacy and she had also been present in public areas at the time when incidents were taking place.

Judge Gilpin said the girl also initiated an exchange with Mr Frew on the 'Messenger' service and her postings "indicated inferred consent given by her to take part in online discussions about anti-social behaviour in the area".

Speaking outside the court, the girl's father said he was "very, very disappointed".

"I will have to speak with my solicitor and my barrister to see what we do from here."

In a statement issued by the DUP press office, Mr Frew said: "The court case since it begun in March has been an unsettling time, as I was made feel like a criminal for simply standing up for the community I serve."

"There had been serious and sinister anti-social behaviour in Broughshane and Harryville for many months. I had been assisting residents in their efforts to get better policing for the area and tackle this scourge."

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