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DUP MLA who named teen girl on Facebook has case against him dismissed

By Nevin Farrell

Published 06/09/2016

Paul Frew MLA and his wife Julie leave court yesterday
Paul Frew MLA and his wife Julie leave court yesterday

A DUP Assemblyman said he has been "totally vindicated" after a teenage girl lost a case against him over comments he made on Facebook.

Earlier this year, Paul Frew MLA had named the girl, then aged 14, on the social network in relation to anti-social behaviour.

The teenager sought damages from Mr Frew (41), who represents Broughshane and Ballymena's Harryville area where the anti-social behaviour was taking place.

Mr Frew previously told the County Court hearing that when he named the girl, who cannot be identified and is now 15 years old, on Facebook he was not intending to harass her or expose her to scorn or ridicule, or breach her privacy.

After the judge at Ballymena Courthouse decided in his favour, Mr Frew, the chairman of Stormont's Justice Committee, said: "I feel totally vindicated by today's verdict.

"The court case since it began in March has been an unsettling time, as I was made to 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.

"People were attacked in their homes, food was smeared over property whilst the elderly folk inside could only watch, which was deeply upsetting. I was working with, supporting and assisting police and community workers on a daily basis at the height of the trouble.

"This case arose from my work of standing up for the community. Now that a verdict has been given I will continue to work hard for the people of north Antrim and I will not be deterred from defending the good people of Broughshane and Harryville."

Dismissing the claim, District Judge Philip Gilpin told the County Court that some of the comments made by others on Facebook - but not Mr Frew - "while undoubtedly unpleasant and unattractive in nature, were neither targeted at (the plaintiff) not any other individual".

The judge said the comments did not deter the plaintiff from making her presence known to others by engaging in exchanges on Facebook.

Having considered all the evidence, the judge said Mr Frew "acted throughout in good faith in making considerable attempts to address the issue of anti-social behaviour" in his constituency.

The judge said when the girl went on Facebook about the situation she could not claim to enjoy an expectation of privacy in relation to postings about it.

He also said as the teenager had been present in public areas at the time when incidents were taking place, she could not enjoy privacy.

The judge said it was also important to take into account that Mr Frew did not make an allegation against the girl, rather he had repeated an allegation that someone else had made to him, and the politician had afforded the teenager an opportunity to respond to it.

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

Outside, the girl's father said: "I'm disappointed with the outcome, but we will see where we take it from here. There is a mechanism for appeal and I will have to talk it through with them. I'm not ruling it out."

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