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How former top PSNI officer Judith Gillespie made cyber-bullies pay for their cruel tweets

By Deborah McAleese

Published 11/07/2016

Former Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie was the victim of vicious and misogynistic tweets on social media
Former Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie was the victim of vicious and misogynistic tweets on social media

A former top police officer has revealed how she refused to let misogynist cyber-bullies ruin her life.

Judith Gillespie was Northern Ireland's most senior police woman when she became a high-profile victim of online bullying.

In a vicious, incessant campaign of abuse on social media, trolls targeted the then Deputy Chief Constable by posting nasty lies and comments about her personal and professional life.

She eventually took legal action against several of those responsible, who were forced to post apologies and pay financial redress to a charity of her choice.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Gillespie admitted that it was a "very difficult" period for her and revealed how she eventually dealt with the very public abuse.

"At first I found it really difficult and it really did annoy me," she said. "Some of the stuff that was tweeted about me was so sexually explicit that it crossed the line in terms of grossly offensive so that crossed the criminal threshold. People told me to ignore it and that was the worst advice. Generally it was men who were saying, 'Just ignore it, it will go away, sure it's nothing'.

"And it wasn't nothing. It was my personal integrity. And a woman in a position of high visibility, your personal integrity is incredibly important.

"Some of these were downright misogynists who were tweeting horrible stuff. I started to take legal action against some of the people who were saying defamatory stuff about me.

"They had to post apologies and pay donations to charity. That gave a great sense of satisfaction. That sends out the message that it's not acceptable, there are consequences."

Cyber-bullies try to intimidate, humiliate and discredit their victims, and are a growing problem, particularly for women.

Alliance MLA Naomi Long is another high profile victim of cyber-bullying on Twitter. Recently Mrs Long hit back at those behind the abuse by humorously sharing some of their nastier posts in an online video.

Mrs Gillespie said she admired how the Assemblywoman dealt with it. "I think Naomi Long has dealt with it incredibly well. She has had so much horrible stuff said about her and she just gives it right back with dignity, professionalism and humour," she said.

Mrs Gillespie is now using her experience to try and help others deal with online abuse.

"I get asked to speak at a lot of women's leadership events and I would always talk about this. Ignoring it is the worst thing to do. But don't reply on the medium, it just feeds their tiny little egos.

Seek legal advice if it's defamatory, if it's criminal. It says more about the person tweeting than it does about you. Keep it in perspective and hold your head high."

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