Northern Ireland

Paul Frew: DUP MLA being sued by schoolgirl

Paul Frew Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Mr Frew said he had never meant for the girl to be subject to harassment

The chair of Stormont's Justice Committee is being sued by a 15-year-old girl for allegedly breaching her privacy.

Paul Frew, MLA for North Antrim, appeared in court in Coleraine on Friday in connection with the matter.

The girl, who cannot be named, claimed Mr Frew linked her name to anti-social behaviour which was alleged to have taken place in the Ballymena area.

She said this was done via a Facebook post by the DUP politician in February.

Friday was the second day of the civil case against him. The first hearing was in June.

The court heard that following an increase in anti-social behaviour in the Harryville area of Ballymena and the nearby village of Broughshane, Mr Frew mentioned the girl's name on Facebook in relation to it.

The 15-year-old girl, who cannot be named because of her age, told the court: "It upset and annoyed me. I was being branded as something I am not.

"People throw dirty looks at me and make comments.

"I ask my dad to pick me up from the school bus because I don't want to walk past people who are judging me."

She is seeking £5,000 for breach of privacy and harassment.

The court heard the anti-social behaviour took place from Halloween last year until early this year and involved nuisance fireworks and eggs, stones and ball-bearings being thrown at people and property and takeaway food being smeared on houses.

In February, the girl said she sent private messages to Mr Frew on Facebook after he posted about the trouble.

The teenager said one of her friends wanted to speak to Mr Frew about it.

She admitted that, while she had been present when the anti-social behaviour was carried out on several occasions, she never took part.

'Scared and anxious'

It was heard that other Facebook contributors had commented on Mr Frew's post, using threatening language.

One social media user said those behind the trouble should be "hung up by the boxers" and another said they should be "taken up Slemish mountain to have their ears cuffed".

The girl said this made her feel "scared and anxious".

The court heard that in March, she took out an injunction against Mr Frew.

'Real fear'

Taking the stand, the MLA said there was "real fear" in Broughshane and Harryville due to the anti-social behaviour and he had met parents and young people to discuss it.

He was asked about a comment on his post that said: "Any QRF in place?"

He replied: "Lol. Me."

Image caption The hearing took place at Coleraine courthouse

He explained that in his view, this was a military term that stood for Quick Reaction Force.

When asked if that term could be construed as having paramilitary connotations, he said: "That's invalid and incorrect. I never thought that's what that person meant."

He added that he could not stop people making threatening comments on Facebook.

He told the court that when he named the teenager, he was suggesting she may have information about the anti-social behaviour, and not that she carried it out and that said he had been trying to "de-escalate" tensions in the community.

The MLA added: "People come to me about these things before, despite my efforts, they would go to police. I was performing a duty and doing my job to the best of my ability."

He said he had never meant to harass the girl.

Legal counsel acting for the girl said the teenager had never been questioned by police in relation to the anti-social behaviour.

A police officer told the court that Mr Frew had been helpful in the community in dealing with anti-social behaviour, which she said had taken a downturn since March.

A judge asked for written submissions in the case to be made and said he would make a judgement at a future date.

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