A campaign of abuse that caused months of trauma
IT was June 2018 when the first messages started arriving in Lisa Bruce’s social media inbox.
She ignored them, hoping the sender would get bored and stop, and eventually blocked the person.
However, the messages did not stop, they got worse, and more personal, often referring to her hair loss caused by stress-related alopecia. And every time she blocked the person, they simply created a new profile.
‘The messages were relentless – although I did get a three-day reprieve over the anniversary of my brother’s fatal car accident and also when our dog died,’ she said. ‘The messages appeared to come from someone I once knew, but when this individual was asked to speak to the police, there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that he had written any message to me. He fully co-operated with the police to prove this. Every time a notification came through on my phone, I knew it would be abuse, but each time I tried to block the owner of the profiles a new one would be created and more disgusting messages would come through.’
She contacted the police in September, but the harassment continued.
Two letters were sent to her parents at home in October, containing details – at times graphic – about her alleged sexual conduct with a married military man. Another letter was sent to her father and to his boss. All of the messages contained allegations which Ms Bruce says are categorically untrue.
‘I do want to stress the fact that the content of the letters is completely untrue,’ she said. ‘I’ve never slept with a married man and I definitely have not slept with anyone in my father’s office.’
Ms Bruce says she has chosen to speak out about her experience to set the record straight and encourage others who are being harassed to report it.
In one such letter to her father, the author – who called himself Andy – apologises for the ‘incident’ before adding: ‘I know it takes two to tango, but I didn’t intend for this to happen. The incident started with your daughter asking me to take her outside so she could have a smoke on the sly, she asked a few of us to keep it hidden from you and your wife. After a few smokes I ended up kissing your daughter outside, next thing we’re walking inside, then she’s dragging me into your office...’
He later adds: ‘Any middle-aged man in that moment is going to find it hard to resist a young 20-something waiting in that position. I’m speaking for both of us in saying thankfully she didn’t get pregnant. As a father myself I’d be extremely hurt with this news. I take full responsibility for my actions and the terrible pain and embarrassment I’ve caused you.’
In another letter to her father, ‘Andy’ claims, in crude language, that Ms Bruce had had sex with lots of men and that ‘anyone could have her’.
Ms Bruce was then contacted by her own HR department, which had become concerned about several emails they had received about her alleged conduct on social media. Ms Bruce says she was not using social media at the time, having stopped when she went to the police.
And in November friends discovered that there were three profiles containing Ms Bruce’s picture and personal details on a dating website. The profile contained the same accusations about the relationship with the married man. Two of her friends were also contacted via an online dating site with the same accusations about their friend.
All of those involved on Ms Bruce’s side worked together to catch the perpetrator, revealed to be her then 24-year-old ex-boyfriend Daniel Foley. Their relationship had broken down after eight months and it was said in court that he had set up the fake profiles to ‘wind her up’.
Having admitted harassment at an earlier court hearing, on 24 January he was sentenced to 90 hours of community service, a nine-month probation order and a restraining order preventing him from contacting Ms Bruce and her father for five years. He was also ordered to pay his victim £1,000 in compensation.
Ms Bruce is able to recount the dates and details of his campaign of harassment easily – presumably it is a series of events she has been over time and time again during the investigation process.
But it is when you ask what impact it has had on her life that the devastating truth is laid bare.
In her victim impact statement handed to the court for use in sentencing and shared by her with the JEP, Ms Bruce said Foley’s actions had torn her apart.
‘Although there were no physical threats in the messages I was sent, I have been physically changed by his vindictive crusade,’ she said. ‘He is fully aware that I have suffered from stress-related alopecia in the past (from unresolved grief) and I find this the cruellest part of his campaign to intimidate, torment and frighten me. He must’ve known how this level of stress would impact on my health and, as the messages intensified, my fear and stress levels increased and my hair inevitably started to fall out again.
‘Last year I went through excruciating pain and considerable expense to have platelet replacement treatment (three sessions of blood injected directly into my scalp – one session was over 100 needles). I am absolutely devastated because I was only just beginning to see the results of this treatment and starting to feel a bit more confident about my appearance again. He has shattered my confidence once more and I feel totally embarrassed about what I look like; my hair is now thinner than before the treatment.’
She added: ‘My trust in relationships has been dented and I have become suspicious of everyone; scared to go out or be alone. I struggle to sleep at night and I now suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I am constantly tense and on edge, and nervous of message notifications on my phone.
‘I am extremely embarrassed and feel very degraded by defamatory comments posted on social media, but having my job threatened – when he sent emails to my employer – was a whole new level of disgust and fear. Thinking that I could lose the job that I love, and have only been in for a year, made me physically sick when I received a phone call from my employer to discuss these emails – filled with accusations and lies about my alleged conduct outside of work.
‘Letters sent to my dad at home caused additional stress and worry to my parents, who were fully aware of the messages and social-media abuse I was being subjected to. Not stopping there, my dad was sent a letter at his place of work and also a letter was sent to his employer. I can only imagine the embarrassment this caused when my dad was asked for an explanation, as the letters implicated members of his work.
‘He [Daniel Foley] has not only caused me months of trauma and stress, but by using other people’s names to set up media profiles and addresses, when I finally went to the police, a totally innocent person’s employer was informed of police involvement and the individual worked with the police to prove that it was not him.’
Harassment – what does the law say?
Advocate Rebecca Morley-Kirk (right), partner at law firm Viberts, offers some information about harassment:
The offence of harassment occurs if someone engages in a course of conduct which he/she knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of another person.
It is not gender specific. Anyone can be the victim or perpetrator.
Whether the conduct amounts to harassment is judged by what a reasonable person in possession of the information would think.
The perpetrator can be sentenced to prison/a fine and a restraining order.
This is criminal behaviour which would have to be disclosed to an employer.
The perpetrator can apply to the court which imposed the restraining order to have it amended or lifted.
If you are a victim of harassment, the police will assist you.
You can help them by providing evidence of the harassment. Make notes of dates/times/contents of conversations.
Keep text messages that you have received.
Keep any documents you have received, for example letters and social-media print-outs.
It is important to know that there does not have to be a ‘course of conduct’ for there to be an offence. If a perpetrator uses words that are threatening or abusive/behaves in a threatening or abusive way or engages in disorderly behaviour – within the hearing or sight of another person likely to be caused alarm or distress by the words or behaviour – then the offence of threatening or disorderly conduct has been committed.
There are also other public-order offences which may apply and also telecommunications offences which deal with telephone/email/social-media contact, so if you are in any doubt, it is worth talking to the police.
If any of the harassment causes any further problems, such as financial loss, job issues etc, then as well as talking to the police, it is worth seeking legal advice.
For more information call Viberts on 888666.
A Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme, more commonly referred to as Clare’s Law, is available to Islanders.
It was introduced following the case of Clare Woods, who was murdered by her former partner in Greater Manchester in 2009, and allows the authorities to disclose information about an individual’s history of domestic violence – including harassment – to a new partner.
It has two functions – the law can be used by an individual to ask about a partner’s past, or the police can proactively disclose information in certain circumstances.
The ‘right to ask’ process is as follows:
1. Initial contact and assessment of any immediate risk.
2. A face-to-face interview with the applicant, including ID verification, and further immediate risk assessment/ safety measures are put in place.
3. Full research and risk assessment of application and further risk assessment.
4. Decision route – the application goes to the Deputy Chief Officer.
5. The whole process should take a maximum of 35 days.
To make an application visit the States police headquarters and ask to speak to a member of the Public Protection Unit, or call the unit on 612240. Concerned third parties, such as relatives, friends and neighbours, can also make an application but may not necessarily receive the information themselves. Instead, the police may provide the information to someone else, such as the victim
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