A jilted boyfriend who was dumped in secondary school waged a stalking campaign against his ex 10 years later by setting up dozens of Instagram profiles in her name and messaging men.
Thomas Berry said he ‘never forgave’ Ellie Steele after she broke up with him when they were 16 and had a ‘long standing obsession’ with her.
This came to the fore when he used fake profiles in her name to send suggestive messages to strangers and made promises to send them naked pictures.
The 26-year-old even suggested she had taken pornographic videos and that she had an OnlyFans account.
Poole Crown Court was told that Ms Steele, who is also 26, only discovered this when she started to get messages from strangers asking for the videos and pictures she had apparently promised them.
Thomas Berry, pictured here outside Poole Crown Court, said he ‘never forgave’ his ex girlfriend Ellie Steele for breaking up with him when they were 16 years old
Ellie Steele, pictured, only discovered this when she started to get messages from strangers asking for the videos and pictures she had apparently promised them
The court was told the ‘highly sophisticated’ stalking campaign began when Ms Steele started a job at Dorchester Town Football club, where Berry worked as a coach and social media officer.
Although Ms Steele 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.
After he was arrested in December 2021, Berry bragged to police he was extremely IT competent and could make the fake social media accounts with ease.
Berry, from Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, pleaded guilty to one count of stalking Ms Steele between May and October last year.
He avoided jail and was instead given a five year restraining order.
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 the non-league football club.
She became so anxious that she quit her job, stopped seeing friends and feared that someone was following her.
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 ten children have tried and failed to get social media platforms to remove harmful content about them in the past month.
Jason Spellman, prosecuting, told Poole Magistrates’ Court, that Berry’s actions had left his victim horrified and embarrassed.
The court heard that the stalking campaign started when Ms Steele got a job at Dorchester Town Football Club, pictured, where Berry worked as a coach and social media officer
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 motivated this is a long standing obsession the defendant has held 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 modelled 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 offence more serious – it shows an element of cunning.
‘I ask for an indefinite restraining order because she will be worried that the behavior will continue for the rest of her life. Who knows where this would have ended had police not interfered’.
In her statement to police that was read out in court, Ms Steele said the ‘authentic and professional’ social media accounts had taken over her life.
She said: ‘This is disturbing to 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?’
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 who I was then.
Berry, pictured here leaving Poole Crown Court, avoided being sent to prison and was instead given a five year restraining order
‘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’.
Magistrates told Berry he ‘very nearly’ went to prison.
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 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’.