A Belfast man who was the victim of a homophobic attack in Liverpool has been targeted by sick online trolls.
In the days since the unprovoked assault on Aodhan Benson, he has received hate-filled messages and death threats, including one particularly vile message telling him to “burn in hell”.
Aodhan (24) was enjoying a night out with friends in Liverpool city centre when he was set upon by two men in the early hours of Saturday morning.
He required hospital treatment for the head injury he suffered as a result of the attack.
Merseyside Police arrested two men, aged 43 and 33, who have been conditionally bailed until next month.
It has now emerged Aodhan, who recently graduated with a PGCE from Liverpool Hope University, has since received a series of homophobic messages on his social media accounts.
However, he has vowed that he will not let the abuse hurt him any further.
“I was scared at the time of the attack, but I’m not scared of someone hiding behind a keyboard,” he said.
“I haven’t reported the messages to the police, I try to let those kind of things wash over me.
“To be honest, whenever I got a horrible message, I just laughed at it and used humour to respond.
“I sent funny messages back just to let the trolls know they hadn’t beaten me.
“I fought back when I was attacked in the street, too, I’m not going to let myself be a victim, although it was scary when I was being punched.
“It only took about five seconds but it seemed to go on forever.
“At the time, all I could think is, 'What if I die and don't get the chance to tell my mum and dad that I love them'?
"No one goes on a night out and thinks they might not come home."
The attack on Aodhan, who is from New Lodge in north Belfast, is the latest in a growing number of hate crimes against LGBT+ people in the city.
According to figures from Merseyside Police, hate crimes against the LBGT+ community have risen over 25% compared to figures recorded last year.
Following the attack on Aodhan, police said they would continue “high visibility patrols” across the city centre.
Chief Inspector Col Rooney said: "This was an appalling incident which left a young man shaken and injured.
“Although we have made arrests, our investigations into the attack will continue.
"As well as physical violence, we believe that homophobic slurs were directed at the victim and we are treating the attack as a hate crime.
“This type of behaviour brings shame on our city, and it has rightly outraged many people.
“We share this anger - targeting anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity has no place whatsoever on Merseyside.
"After a number of worrying incidents over the last month, we want our LGBT+ community to be reassured that we stand with them: we are committed to protecting them, and we will do whatever we can to bring offenders to justice.”