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Dublin: 4 °C Thursday 12 December, 2019
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'Internet troll' jailed for sending hundreds of abusive messages to six women

Judge Martin Nolan said the women were “literally stalked” on the internet by the accused.

Image: Leah Farrell

A MAN WHO harassed six female writers and journalists by sending them hundreds of abusive emails online has been jailed for three years.

Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard that Brendan Doolin (37) left his home only twice in the previous 17 years prior to these matters being investigated. His lawyers described him as “an internet troll”.

Doolin, of Leighlin Road, Crumlin, Dublin pleaded guilty to harassing Sarah Griffin, Kate McEvoy, Sinead O’Carroll, Christine Bohan, Roe McDermott and Aoife Barry on dates between May 2012 and February 2018.

Social media

John Berry BL, prosecuting, told Judge Martin Nolan that all the cases shared similar features in that each of the women Doolin targeted either worked as journalists or had a strong social media presence, particularly on Twitter.

Judge Nolan said that “undoubtedly the internet had wonderful advantages”, but what the court had heard in this case was “the dark side, which allows a man sitting in his house to inflict huge amounts of trauma on six women”.

Passing sentence today, Judge Nolan said it used to be an advantage of the internet that nobody knew who was speaking and who was out there, but it had turned into a huge disadvantage in many cases. He said the defendant “felt like he was untouchable”.

Judge Nolan said that most of us and most of the women could put up with one, two, three or even a dozen insulting and abusive responses, but there were literally hundreds of responses to what the women said. He said the women were “literally stalked” on the internet by the accused.

He said that all of the complainants asked Doolin to stop, but he persisted. He said he behaved in a “very vindictive way” and when he perceived weaknesses he attacked that weakness.

Guilty plea

Judge Nolan said the mitigating factors in the case were Doolin’s guilty plea, his co-operation, his admissions, his expression of remorse, his own difficulties and his unlikelihood of offending in the future.

He said that he had no doubt that Doolin knew the difference between right and wrong and that nothing in the psychiatric report disputed this. He said Doolin offended “grievously” and he persisted in harassing and intimidating and “probably attempting to frighten” the victims.

Judge Nolan sentenced Doolin to five years imprisonment, but suspended the final two years of the sentence on strict condition including that he be under supervision of the Probation Service for two years post release and not contact any of the complainants for the rest of his life.

He made a further order prohibiting Doolin from contacting the six individuals. The court heard that a breach of this order is a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.

Detective Garda Colm Gallagher said Doolin used a number of different email addresses to contact the women, quite often following an article they had published or a radio or a television appearance. Counsel said this led to the women feeling as if they were under surveillance.

Sinead O’Carroll, a news editor, was contacted and told to “break both legs” after she tweeted to promote an upcoming appearance on a television programme.

Kate McEvoy was informed that the sender of the emails was in the area where she lived and once when she tweeted that her housemate had gone out for the evening, he messaged “good, I’ll be over soon”.

Christine Bohan, who got over 450 messages from Doolin, also received a 10-year-old political leaflet from him which carried a photograph of her on it. She was also sent an image of her from a dinner at her old college.

Both of these images caused concern to Bohan as she was not named in either and it worried her that the person had “scoured the internet looking for her image”.

Detective Garda Gallagher said each of the women received hundreds of emails, usually using the same unusual font, containing insults such as calling the women “wannabes, nobodies, whiteist, bigots, lefties and pseudo intellectuals”.

He accused them of being narcissistic attention seekers, self-obsessed and concerned with their own self-promotion, referring to their “twitter bubble” and suggesting that they don’t care for others.

Doolin used the same insult twice with two different women telling them they were “as interesting as a bucket of water and as deep as the goldfish in it” and said in other messages “I love the middle class whiteist, the shiny white people”.

Roe McDermott, a journalist, replied to Doolin telling him that his contact was unwanted and therefore if it continued it would amount to harassment.

“What you do with that information is up to you, but I am making it clear so you don’t have the excuse of feigned ignorance,” McDermott wrote.

Doolin first messaged news editor, Aoife Barry, in response to an article she wrote about male suicide in which he said “I will probably kill myself in the next few years, probably won’t do it now because I am a big chicken”.

Barry became concerned for the person’s safety and replied advising the sender to get in contact with the Samaritans. Doolin then started to send her a number of messages insulting her in a similar manner.

Sarah Griffin, an author who estimated that she received in excess of 450 messages, said in her victim impact report she remembers being upset and humiliated, but reconciled herself to “the reality that sometimes there are men in the world who are angry at women”.

Griffin said to be stalked in this way was intrinsically a personal violation. She said she did not know what she did to deserve this other than “exist as a young women who liked to write for a living” and that for the accused “perhaps that was enough”.

Doolin also emailed Griffin’s husband, who replied and told Doolin that it appeared that he was emailing “any woman in Ireland who has a byline”.

Victim impact statements

Ms Barry said in her victim impact statement that first she put his behaviour down to a need for contact with people, but it became clear that he wanted her to feel bad about herself. She said the harassment was depressing and dispiriting, and there was a misogynistic tone to it which was upsetting.

She said that no matter how many times she asked him to stop, he did not stop until the gardaí got involved. She said that without the intervention of gardaí, she was in no doubt that she would still be receiving emails from him.

Sinéad O’Carroll said in her victim impact statement that when speaking at a public engagement, she wondered if the man who “quite obviously hated” her was sitting in the room. She said that was one “small example of how online harassment is not just about what happens online”.

She said she hoped he understood the impact of what he had done and got the necessary support. She said she did not feel like a victim and did not wish to speak about the accused or this case again.

Kate McEvoy said in her victim impact statement that she lived in constant fear that the harassment would pass into the real world. She said the messages were impossible to ignore when they made references to where she lived.

She said that this person dedicated his life to punish women for no other reason than they were successful women with a public voice. She said she had serious concerns that he would just start again.

Roe McDermott said in her victim impact statement that the accused would send up to nine emails a day and the constant barrage of abuse had been stressful and anxiety inducing. She said she was scared for her safety and scared that people close to her would become targets of the abuse.

She said she was afraid that she would have to face this level of harassment for her entire career. She said she believed he was trying to harass her into silence, but said “I have not been silenced”.

Monitoring

In interview with gardaí, Doolin admitted to using a computer programme which can monitor whether an email that has been sent has been opened. He admitted control of the email addresses used to send the messages.

When asked by gardaí why he had not used an email address with his own name, Doolin replied that: “You don’t use your own name”.

Detective Garda Gallagher agreed with Keith Spencer BL, defending, that his client was someone with no criminal history or previous convictions. He agreed it was fair to describe Doolin as “a complete recluse”.

Spencer said that according to the accused’s brother, Doolin had left his house only twice in the previous 17 years. He said his client left his house once to obtain an identification card and once due to the death of his father.

Counsel said that in effect his client became “an internet troll”. He submitted that Doolin’s online persona was not his true persona and asked the court to see his client as being at a very low risk of re-offending.

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About the author:

Brion Hoban and Sonya McLean

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