A JILTED boyfriend who resented his school sweetheart created fake social media accounts in her name to get revenge on her years later.
The victim in the case called on social media companies to take greater responsibility for shutting down fake accounts so no one else has to experience what she did.
Thomas Berry, 26, from Poundbury, said he ‘never forgave’ his ex-girlfriend Ellie Steele for breaking up with him when they were 16.
When she got a job at Dorchester Town FC where he was a football manager and social media manager, his ‘long-standing obsession’ with her kicked in and he set out for revenge.
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In a “very sophisticated” harassment campaign that required a lot of “planning and cunning” on Berry’s part, he stole his identity to create dozens of Instagram profiles in his name.
Then impersonating her and using her profile picture, he sent suggestive messages to strange men and promised to send them nude photos.
It also revealed that Ms Steele had made pornographic videos on the OnlyFans site.
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.
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He was eventually scolded when he messaged Ms Steele’s friends and revealed details about her that only he knew.
After his arrest in December 2021, Berry bragged to police that he was extremely computer-savvy and could easily set up fake social media accounts.
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.
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 worried that someone was following her.
Although she repeatedly reported Berry’s accounts, she said they were never deleted and one Snapchat account is still active today.
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 arose the same week. Research by England’s Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, found four in ten children had tried and failed to get social media platforms to remove harmful content about them in the past month .
Jason Spellman, prosecuting, told Poole Magistrates’ Court that Berry’s actions left his victim horrified and embarrassed.
He said: “What seems to have motivated this is the defendant’s longstanding obsession 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.”
In her statement to police which was read out in court, Ms Steele said ‘authentic and professional’ social media accounts had taken over her life.
She said: “It bothers me because I don’t know what content it may have. Tom has a fixation on me.
“That 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 my trust.”
Addressing the court, 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.
As well as having to perform 250 hours of unpaid work, Berry was 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 said she was “disappointed” with the outcome.
She said: “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.
“He totally controlled Ellie’s life.”