Kenilworth man jailed after 'unbearable' online harassment of American woman
A Kenilworth man's online harassment of a young American woman got so bad that she flew to this country with her mother to make a complaint to the police about his behaviour.
And as a result, her tormentor Lewis Birch, who continued making threats once he knew she was here, appeared at Warwick Crown Court where he was jailed for a total of 15 months.
Birch, 35, of Warwick Road, Kenilworth, had pleaded guilty to charges of harassment, disclosing private photographs, fraud and sending threatening communications.
Prosecutor Graham Russell said Birch and the woman, who is in her 20s and lives in the USA, had got to know each other in April last year through a Facebook messenger group.
They got on well, and during the summer she came to England to see him, but found his behaviour somewhat controlling.
Nevertheless, on her return to America, they continued their online correspondence – and later in the year he flew to the US to spend some time with her.
But things did not go smoothly, and he confessed he had been secretly reading her journals and she found he had also been corresponding with another woman online.
Birch’s behaviour during his visit was volatile, and on one occasion he had stabbed himself with an EpiPen, and on another he swallowed ten Diazepam tablets.
“The relationship did not survive much beyond his return to the UK, and it came to an end on or around the 4th of December, at her instigation. Mr Birch did not take it well.”
He had some pictures of her, either taken by her and sent to him or taken by him with her permission – but ‘obviously intended for his eyes only,’ said Mr Russell.
“But that isn’t the way they stayed. He gained access to her Facebook profile, and he took the opportunity to distribute three or four of the images to some of her friends.”
They were also sent to her university lecturers and were uploaded to two online porn websites – then sent her a link to them with the message ‘Merry Christmas.’
Not content with that, he set up false Facebook and Instagram profiles in her name on which to post the same images.
And he began a campaign of ordering food online to be delivered to her address and those of her mother and aunt.
The fraud involved him using her debit card details, to which he had previously had access, to attempt to order a $50 gift card to be sent to her – but Judge Sylvia de Bertodano observed that was really another part of his harassment campaign.
By that point things had become ‘somewhat unbearable,’ and she contacted her local county police who told her there was nothing they could do as it was outside their jurisdiction.
So in desperation, on January 15, ‘at some expense,’ she and her mother flew to London to consult an English solicitor, as a result of which the police were contacted.
But on learning she was in the country, he began sending her messages in which he told her: “What is in motion is that people are coming for you. I can’t stop that. I’m going to die also. Why when I was with you couldn’t you just accept me?”
And in another he wrote: “There are bad people I’ve contacted. Even though my actions prior were not OK, you hurt me.”
Mr Russell said that as a result of Birch’s actions, his victim is seeking therapy, and has had the expense of coming to this country to make her complaint and hiring online specialists to trace uses of the images and get them removed.
David Rees, defending, said: “He has ongoing long-term psychiatric issues. We are dealing with an intense response to a relationship break-down. It is a very sad state of affairs.”
Jailing Birch, Judge de Bertodano told him: “She ended the relationship, and your reaction to that was immediate, and it was to send compromising photographs of her.
“They were clearly private photographs which she intended no-one but you to see, but you took it on yourself to distribute them to her friends and to her university lecturers, and uploaded them, for good measure, onto pornographic websites.
“She would have been utterly humiliated, and of course that was your intention.
“Once you knew she was in England, you entered into lengthy correspondence with her in which you are clearly making repeated threats.
“The internet is a hugely powerful instrument for good, but the way you chose to use it empowered the internet to inflict humiliation and distress on this young woman.
“This must be an immediate prison sentence. The message very clearly must go out that if people harass former partners in this way, and do so repeatedly, they must go to prison.”