THE next tragedy like that of Fiona Pilkington - who killed herself and her daughter after being targeted by yobs - will be caused by online abuse rather than anti-social behaviour, police in the region have warned.
Technological advances have given bullies more opportunities to harass online using social networks as they can carry out their abuse without having to see their victim, according to Detective Chief Inspector Mick Lawrenson, West Yorkshire Police’s strategic lead for cyber crime.
Police in the region have reported an upward trend in reports of crimes committed using Facebook and Twitter in recent years, as forces draw up plans to deal with the growing problem.
Mr Lawrenson said there were now concerns that abuse on social networks could be responsible for a case similar to that of Ms Pilkington, who was found dead with her 18-year-old daughter and had complained to police 33 times after being harassed in their home.
He said: “From our perspective, there is a realisation that the next Pilkington case is not going to be anti-social behaviour that drives people to do the things that happened, it is going to be through the computers, because it is more remote. The difference is that it is done without people seeing the impact of it, which makes it much more sterile. You are not actually seeing the impact.”
Last month teenager Hannah Smith was found hanged at her home after suffering months of bullying by anonymous ‘trolls’ on website ask.fm.
And recent abuse aimed at MP Stella Creasy and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez on Twitter has prompted calls for social networks to do more to tackle aggressive behaviour.
Mr Lawrenson said it was not the police’s role to sort out all the issues of social network users and that responsibility also rested on the individuals themselves and companies like Facebook and Twitter.
He said: “Everyone has got a part to play in this to make sure it is policed in the broadest terms effectively. I don’t see the police right at the front end of that, apart from preventative messages within partnership to give people the skills and knowledge to avoid becoming a victim of one of these kinds of crimes.”
From this summer police will mark all ‘cyber-crimes’ with a new classification, giving the Government a truer picture of the extent of the problem across the country.