A convicted child abuser featured on Facebook pages set up to name and shame paedophiles in Northern Ireland is to have an award of damages cut from £20,000 to £2,000, the Court of Appeal ruled today.
Senior judges slashed the scale of compensation to the sex offender based on a restricted period when the social network knew private information was being published.
Facebook was sued along with so-called paedophile hunter Joe McCloskey over an online forum operated by the Limavady man.
The sex offender, identified only as CG, issued proceedings after his photograph and details appeared on the page ‘Keeping Our Kids Safe From Predators 2’.
In a landmark ruling in 2015 the High Court held both the social media giant and Mr McCloskey liable for misusing private information.
CG was released from jail in 2012 after serving a sentence for gross indecency and indecent assault offences against a young girl and a teenage boy.
Now aged in his forties, he remains under supervision by the authorities and has been assessed as posing no significant risk to the public.
His lawyers argued that an online campaign after his details appeared on the page had reached the level of dangerous vigilantism.
Amid a string of abusive comments and information on his location one user called for him to be hung while others endorsed shooting or castrating him.
In evidence CG also claimed he has been threatened with being thrown off a pier during a fishing trip, hounded out of a cinema and had to use a supermarket trolley to fight off another tormentor.
Ruling in favour of CG’s right to privacy, the High Court had awarded him total damages of £20,000, with Mr McCloskey liable for £15,000 of that amount.
Since the verdict two of CG’s victims have issued writs against him.
An injunction was also secured to stop any payout to the sex offender until those cases are dealt with.
Mr McCloskey, who was also held liable for harassment, abandoned his attempt to overturn the findings against him.
But Facebook pursued an appeal that examined the status of notification letters issued by CG’s lawyers in a bid to have the postings removed.
Contending there had been a failure to properly identify the unlawful material, counsel for the social network insisted the sex offender had to live with name-calling as part of his conviction.
Lawyers for CG responded by claiming Facebook was “indifferent” to his fate.
A central issue was whether Facebook had knowledge about the publication of private information.
Although the case featured three profile pages on the social network, appeal judges focused on one posted by the father of one of CG’s victims.
A solicitor’s letter on November 26, 2013 set out how it identified the area where the sex offender lived, and disclosed that police had called out to warn him of a threat to his life from loyalist paramilitaries.
In December the Court of Appeal held that a delay of more than a week before the information was removed rendered Facebook liable in damages for misuse of private information during that period.
However, the company’s appeal over the other two periods was allowed.
A further hearing today decided the appropriate level of damages to be paid out due to the changed circumstances.
Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, sitting with two other senior judges, described the interference with CG’s rights as “modest”.
He confirmed that the £20,000 award against Facebook was being reduced to £2,000.