Thomas Berry from Dorchester, Dorset, has pleaded guilty to harassment charges after creating several Instagram accounts in his ex-partner’s name, promising nude photos of strange men and suggesting she had made pornographic videos on OnlyFans
Image: Graham Hunt/BNPS)
An abandoned boyfriend who held a secret 10-year grudge against his school sweetheart has created fake social media accounts in her name to get revenge.
Impersonating her on social media, Thomas Berry, 26, would send suggestive messages to random men and promise to send them nude photos.
His “longstanding obsession” with Ellie Steele continued for years despite no further contact, after she dumped him at the age of 16, the court heard.
When Berry, from Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, was finally arrested he told police he had never forgiven her and wanted to bother her because she had hurt him.
According to Mr Spellman, prosecuting, Mr Berry also boasted that he was “extremely computer-savvy and could easily set up social media accounts”.
Berry also revealed that Ms Steele had made pornographic videos on the OnlyFans site.
Mr Berry pleaded guilty to one count of stalking Ms Steele between May and October last year.
He avoided jail time and was instead handed a five-year injunction.
Magistrates told Berry he was “very close” to going to jail.
The harassment campaign began when she got a job at the same non-league football club he was a football manager and social media manager, Dorchester Town FC.
Berry’s grudge surfaced and he began creating dozens of Instagram profiles in her name until his arrest in December.
Ms Steele, 26, only discovered the fake accounts when she received messages from strangers asking for the videos and photos she had apparently promised them.
Although she reported the accounts to Instagram, Berry deactivated them before he could be caught to start new ones in their place.
At worst, Ms Steele counted four new profiles in a single week.
She began to suspect it might be Berry as pictures of her taken at school and at the football club were posted on profiles.
He was eventually scolded when he messaged Ms Steele’s friends and revealed details about her that only he knew.
Jason Spellman, prosecuting, told Poole Magistrates’ Court that Berry’s actions left his victim horrified and embarrassed.
He said: “This is quite a concerning case because of the efforts of the defendant, but also because he had no contact for a long time (prior to the offence).
“So what seems to have driven this is a long-standing obsession that the defendant has with the victim.
“They were in a short relationship when they were both 14, which was ended after two and a half years by the victim.
“When he was arrested, he told the police that he had never forgiven her and that he wanted to bother her because she had hurt him.
“He said he was extremely computer-savvy and could easily set up social media accounts.”
Describing an Instagram bio suggesting Ms Steele was inspired by OnlyFans, a porn subscription platform, Mr Spellman said: ‘You can imagine the sense of horror and embarrassment she felt hearing that.
“The effort he has made makes this offense more serious – it shows an element of cunning.”
Although the charge covered a period of five months, Ms Steele said the campaign had spanned six years since she started working at Dorchester Town FC.
She became so anxious that she quit her job, stopped seeing friends, and feared someone was following her.
In her statement to police which was read out in court, Ms Steele said: “It bothers me because I don’t know what content it may have.
“Tom has a fixation on me. We’ve known each other for 10 years.
“This person knows where I work, where I live and what university I went to.
“I feel like someone else is controlling my life and affecting my reputation among people who don’t know me.
“I stopped using social media. I don’t trust anyone anymore. I lost all trust.
“I worry about when it will stop and what will happen next. Will there be an escalation?”
Speaking today, she said social media companies should take greater responsibility for shutting down fake accounts so no one else has to experience what she did.
Although she repeatedly reported Berry’s accounts, she said they were never deleted and one Snapchat account is still active today, she said.
Ms Steele said: “Technology is changing so quickly that our laws aren’t keeping up with it. It’s far too easy to set up multiple accounts – I would certainly advocate some sort of identity verification.
“I kept reporting Tom’s Instagram accounts for impersonation, but none of them were ever deleted – he would just disable them and then re-enable them or create new ones.
“Social media companies need to pay more attention to what’s going on.
“As long as there are users on their platform, they don’t care how people are treated.
“People’s lives are ruined and they don’t care. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I did.”
Ms Steele’s case arises the same week. Research by England’s Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, has found four in 10 children have tried and failed to get social media platforms to remove harmful content about them in the past month .
Speaking to the court himself, Berry said: “I want to say how sorry and stupid I am for my actions. I feel like a different person than I was then.
“I know there is nothing I can do to take it back, but if I could I would do everything in my power to do so.”
As well as having to perform 250 hours of unpaid work, Berry was also ordered to pay Ms Steele £400 compensation and banned from creating social media accounts relating to her.
Speaking after the hearing, Miss Steele’s mother, Alison Steele, 53, said she was “disappointed” with the outcome.
She said: “It’s been a 10-year obsession, so we were hoping the restraining order would be indefinite.
“It would have given my daughter peace of mind that he wouldn’t do it again.
“It’s persistent and it took him four years to start last time.
“She moved to university but when she came back to work at the club, that triggered it.
“He was still doing accounts until his arrest in December.
“It has totally controlled Ellie’s life. She is in therapy.
“She quit her job at the club, which she loved, because she felt like she was being judged and was afraid to leave the house.
“At one point I had to walk her back to work because she was worried someone was following her.”