Thomas Berry From Dorchester, Dorset, pleaded guilty to stalking charges after setting up multiple Instagram accounts in his ex-partner’s name, promising strange men naked pictures and suggesting she had made pornography videos on OnlyFans
Image: Graham Hunt/BNPS)
A jilted boyfriend who held a secret 10-year grudge against his school sweetheart created fake social media accounts in her name to get revenge.
Masquerading as her on social media, Thomas Berry, 26, would send random men suggestive messages and promised to send them naked photos.
His “long-standing obsession” with Ellie Steele continued for years despite no other contact, after she dumped him when they were 16, the court heard.
When Berry, from Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, was finally arrested he told police he had never forgiven her and wanted to mess her around because she hurt him.
According to Mr Spellman, prosecuting, Mr Berry also boasted of being “extremely IT competent and could make the social media accounts with ease”.
Berry also made it appear that Ms Steele made pornography videos on the OnlyFans site.
Mr Berry pleaded guilty to one count of stalking Ms Steele between May and October last year.
I have avoided jail and was instead given a five year restraining order.
Magistrates told Berry he “very nearly” went to prison.
The campaign of harassment began when she got a job at the same non-league football club he was a soccer coach and social media officer, Dorchester Town FC.
Berry’s harbored grudge bubbled to the surface and he began to make dozens of Instagram profiles in his name continuing right up to when he was arrested in December.
Ms Steele, 26, only discovered the fake accounts when she received messages from strangers asking for the videos and pictures she had apparently promised them.
Although she reported the accounts to Instagram, Berry deactivated them before he could be caught only to launch new ones in their place.
At its worst, Ms Steele counted four new profiles in a single week.
She began to suspect it could be Berry because pictures of her taken at school and at the football club were posted on the profiles.
He was eventually rumbled when he messaged Ms Steele’s friends and revealed details about her which only he knew about.
Jason Spellman, prosecuting, told Poole Magistrates’ Court, that Berry’s actions had left his victim horrified and embarrassed.
He said: “This is quite a concerning case because of the efforts the defendant went to but also because they had no contact for a substantial period of time (before the offending).
“So what appears to have this is a long standing obsession the defendant has held motivated towards 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 police he never forgave her and he wanted to mess her around because she hurt him.
“He said he was extremely IT competent and could make the social media accounts with ease.”
Describing an Instagram bio which suggested Ms Steele modeled on OnlyFans, a pornographic subscription platform, Mr Spellman said: “You can imagine the sense of horror and embarrassment she felt when she heard this.
“The efforts he has gone to 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 went on for six years ever since she started working at Dorchester Town FC.
She became so anxious that she quit her job, stopped seeing friends and feared that someone was following her.
In her statement to police that was read out in court, Ms Steele said: “This is disturbing me because I don’t know what content he may have.
“Tom has a fixation on me. We have 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 have stopped using social media. I don’t trust anyone anymore. I have lost all of my confidence.
“I worry about when this will stop and what will happen next. Will there be an escalation?”
Speaking today, she said social media companies should take greater responsibility to shut down fake accounts so that nobody else had to experience what she did.
Despite repeatedly reporting Berry’s accounts she said they were never removed and a Snapchat account is still active today, she said.
Ms Steele said: “Technology is evolving so quickly that our laws are not keeping up with it. It’s far too easy to set up multiple accounts – I would definitely advocate for some kind of ID check.
“I kept reporting Tom’s Instagram accounts for impersonation but none of them were ever taken down – he would just deactivate them, then reactivate them or make more.
“Social media companies need to take more notice of what is going on.
“As long as there are users on their platform, they don’t care about how people are being treated.
“People’s lives are being ruined and they just don’t care. I don’t want anyone to have to experience what I did.”
Ms Steele’s case comes in the same week research by England’s children’s commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza found four in 10 children have tried and failed to get social media platforms to remove harmful content about them in the past month.
Addressing the court himself, Berry said: “I want to put on record how sorry and stupid I feel for my actions. I feel like a different person to whom I was then.
“I know there is nothing I can do to take it back but if I could then I would do everything in my power to do so.”
As well as having to complete 250 hours of unpaid work, Berry was also ordered to pay £400 compensation to Ms Steele and banned from making social media accounts related to her.
Speaking after the hearing Miss Steele’s mother, Alison Steele, 53, said she was “disappointed” by the result.
She said: “This has been a 10-year obsession so we hoped the restraining order would be indefinite.
“That would have given my daughter the peace of mind that he wouldn’t start again.
“This is persistent and it took four years for him to start last time.
“She moved away to university but when she came back to work at the club it triggered him.
“He was still making accounts right up until he was arrested in December.
“It has totally controlled Ellie’s life. She is receiving therapy.
“She quit her job at the club, which she loved, because she felt like she was being judged and she was afraid to leave the house.
“At one point I had to walk her to work because she was worried someone was following her.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.