No place for trolls as police investigate alleged online attack of Norwich City star

Sadly the alleged abuse of James Vaughan is not the first time this has happened.

Last June the Evening News told how 22-year-old Canaries fan Luke O'Donoughue received a lifetime ban from Carrow Road after the club said they had become aware of the content of his posts directed at Vaughan. And this month Northumbrian police confirmed they were making inquiries following a racist tweet directed at Sunderland striker Frazier Campbell.

The latest storm blew up on Sunday night. Two users of the social networking tool Twitter made several posts involving alleged racist abuse of Vaughan, which led to a storm of anger from supporters.

It is believed the pair support Liverpool, the rivals of Vaughan's former club Everton.

Vaughan himself did not react to the tweets and the Canaries have been as swift in their response as they were in summer. Within 24 hours a complaint was made to police, who are now investigating.

The incident is the latest in a long line of cases, both local and national, in which users of social network sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, post abuse, whether it is racial or simply personal.

This form of abuse is known as 'trolling' and it would seem that some people feel that, simply because they go by an assumed name, they can get away with such attacks.

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However, as a Norwich legal expert explains, just because you are typing something with apparent anonymity, it does not make you exempt from the laws of the land – and can in fact mean there is more chance of you being prosecuted.

'From our point of view, we have seen an increase in the number of civil cases involving defamation claims,' said Katy Kidd, head of disputes at Steele's Solicitors in Norwich.

'Online is a forum where people make comments that anyone can see, and the victims are suing them. From a legal perspective, comments written on these sites make it clearer that someone has said something than if it occurs on the street, as it is in black and white and can remain on the website for a period of time.

'Writing online is no obstacle to being prosecuted for defamation.'

O'Donoughue was subject to criminal proceedings under the communications act, in what was believed to be the first case of its kind.

As well as receiving the lifetime ban from the club, he was ordered to carry out 120 hours of community service.

Twitter itself has a record of what is called an IP (internet protocol) address for computers which use the website. This can be taken to the internet service provider, such as BT or Virgin, who will hand over the name of their customer behind the address to the police should they have a warrant.

A Norfolk Constabulary spokesman confirmed officers were currently investigating the complaint regarding the abuse of Vaughan and were making every effort to trace the owners of the accounts with a view to taking action if required.

The spokesman added: 'This does not fall within the confines of Football Legislation under the terms of the Football (Offences) Act 1991 but could be prosecuted under the Misuse of Communications Act 2003.

'Members of the public have the freedom to express their views using all forms of social media. However, Norfolk Constabulary is duty bound to investigate reports of any offences committed by individuals using such technology, including racially motivated crimes.'

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