Trolls trying to destroy my life by posting fake stories and vile images, reveals
A former Omagh councillor has said that her life has been turned upside down by "untrue and malicious allegations" spread online about her personal life.
Sorcha McAnespy, who left Sinn Fein four years ago and is now a member of Fianna Fail, told the Belfast Telegraph that she felt extremely distressed about false rumours linking her to a public figure from Co Tyrone.
Her face was superimposed on "grotesque pornographic images" circulating on WhatsApp, and appearing in online searches, in a campaign which she said seeks to discredit her and the prominent married local personality.
She has reported the images to the PSNI and is receiving counselling.
Ms McAnespy said she was speaking out following the tragic death of Caroline Flack in her London flat last weekend.
The former councillor said: "Completely false and unsubstantiated rumours have been spread about me since the New Year.
"I am being linked to a man whom I don't even know personally. The whole thing is crazy. Friends have contacted me from as far away as Canada and Dubai to say they've heard the claims.
"It has been said that myself and this man have been seen together and that he's living with me. I'm a single mother of three daughters, and I live with my children, nobody else. This is not just upsetting for me, it affects my family too. This is obviously distressing for my parents."
Ms McAnespy said the past seven weeks had been "just horrible" for her. "I've been in public life since 2011 and I know hurtful things can be said about you. My attitude has always been to ignore it and rise above it," she said.
"But this is on a totally different level to anything I've ever experienced before. I know that speaking out publicly can give the allegations legs, but I feel I have no other choice but to call this out.
"I'm doing so not just for myself but for other women in politics, business and sport who have experienced unfounded rumours about their personal life. It is not right that we are left to try and douse the flames ourselves.
"I am not looking for sympathy, but I am looking for a better future for my three daughters. I don't want them to ever have to deal with rubbish like this. It has to stop."
Ms McAnespy said that WhatsApp had to be held to account for "enabling the circulation of false and malicious rumours".
The former councillor's story was first reported in the Ulster Herald. She said that a friend had told her about the untrue allegations in January. "I didn't take it seriously because it was so outrageous, but then more and more people began to talk about it," she said.
"Another friend showed me grotesque pornographic images of my face Photoshopped onto somebody else's body. I broke down in tears, and it was then I decided I had to go to the police."
Ms McAnespy said that the PSNI had told her that there was not much it could do about a Photoshopped image.
"I've taken legal advice on the issue. I find it highly frustrating that apparently nothing can be done to counteract such vile rumours," she said.
"These allegations are doing the rounds on building sites in Belfast and Dublin. This has all been carefully and deliberately planned. It didn't just happen by accident.
"I would appeal to people who share these images on WhatsApp to think about what they are doing. They may reckon it's just a bit of craic, but it destroys people's lives and reputations."
Ms McAnespy said she had been encouraged by the response she has had since going public about her experience.
"I've been receiving lots of support from other women. People are saying that I'm brave talking about it and they're telling me to keep my chin up," she said.
Ms Anespie was an Omagh councillor for eight years. She failed to get re-elected in last year's local government elections.
She left Sinn Fein in 2016, citing a "toxic culture" within the party. She continued to sit as an independent councillor until last May.
She joined Fianna Fail and currently serves on its national executive.
The Fianna Fail TD behind a scuppered attempt to run a candidate in Northern Ireland's local elections has said the "greater good was served" and he has no regrets about the incident - despite it resulting in his being sacked from his party's front bench.