10:36, August 03 140 0 theguardian.com

2018-08-03 10:36:06
Harassed online for 13 years, the victim who feels free at last

When Lindsey Goldrick Dean ended her short relationship with a man and he started harassing her online, she thought he would soon get bored with it. “I was thinking, ‘Could I stand a month of this?’” she says with a grim smile. Thirteen years later, after numerous (largely ignored) complaints to the police and finally a trip to the high court, where she won damages, Goldrick Dean hopes it is finally over. She set up a Twitter account last month and posted: “I haven’t had a voice in 13 years. Hello.”

Paul Curran, a financial consultant, set up two Twitter accounts in her name in 2015 and posted links to at least 10 (and probably more) websites he had created about Goldrick Dean. Their names are self-explanatory – LindseyGoldrick-ANastyLyingPieceOfWork.com was one; YouThinkYouKnowLindsey.com another – and they contained pages of lies about her, offensive content and excerpts from emails she had sent and which he had embellished. If you Googled Goldrick Dean’s name back then, that is what you would have seen about her.

She sits on the floor of her pretty cottage in Somerset, friendly, with a wide smile, although she says her health has suffered because she has felt as though she were “in a fight or flight mode all the time”.

In 2002, Goldrick Dean, a business development manager, had amicably split from her husband in the US and moved back to the UK, to be close to her mother in Somerset.

A couple of years later, a friend told her she would join a dating site if Goldrick Dean would as well and they both gave it a go. She joined the Guardian’s Soulmates site, thinking she would meet someone like-minded. Curran – it later turned out – she stresses with a laugh, wasn’t a Guardian reader. The two emailed for a while and met four times, but at their last meeting, Goldrick Dean told him she didn’t want a relationship with him. Their entire relationship, including the emailing, had lasted six months.

There had been a couple of warning signs. On one occasion when they met, Goldrick Dean had a bad cold and he had been very unsympathetic. “I [saw a side] to him and I thought ‘ah, ok’.” And he had bought a domain name in her name as a gift – she had told him she wanted to set up her own business. Goldrick Dean thought this was strange and asked him to delete it. He didn’t.

Once she ended contact, the phone calls started – she was getting about five a day that she believed were from him. He sent her a box that contained some burned items, and some “weird lingerie”, she says, which he then asked her to send back. “There were nasty phone calls, nasty emails very soon afterwards and then it quickly escalated to online,” she says.

Curran bought several variations of domains with her name, and started writing pages and pages about her. “[There were] pictures of strands of my hair and blottings of my lipstick that I’d thrown in the bin,” she says. “It was a lot of sexual content, that I was into gang bangs and things, it was just … ” She shakes her head and gives a grim laugh. “Things like that. It was very disgusting, vile.”

One of the headlines on a post, she says, was “Even your mum knows how nasty you are”. “Me and my mum are best friends so that really hurt,” says Goldrick Dean. “They were all lies, just made to really hurt me.”

He reprinted emails she had sent him, but she says he added his own words to them. “The way they were written it was almost like I was out of a romantic novel. When did I say he was ‘the most beautiful man who doth walk on water’? It was all really delusional stuff. Some of my words went in, like ‘wow, that’s wonderful. Have a lovely day’ and they were interspersed. There were bits of me in there.” A few years later, he took out an advert on Google to point people to these sites.

Friends, family and acquaintances started receiving notes in the post alerting them to the websites and, thinking they were from Goldrick Dean announcing she had started her own business, clicked on them and were confronted with all this stuff. Curran emailed a company she was working for, where she was editing the employees’ magazine, and told them to look at the websites. “It was awful. It was embarrassing, it was so distressing,” she says. “None of it was true but it didn’t make it any easier. It’s all about oppression and control.”

Goldrick Dean met the man who would become her husband soon afterwards and he encouraged her to go to the police. “I didn’t really want to. I felt like the less I acknowledged it, the less … that’s how I’ve treated it over the last 13 years, I’ve kept it in because nobody could help me. The less I talked about it, the less real it was. I think it would have caused me more anxiety.”

The police weren’t helpful over the next few years, she says. “At one point I thought I was harassing them. Each time I went, I’d have to explain and they’d say ‘what do you want us to do?’” In 2005, Curran was arrested and cautioned, but a month later was creating more malicious websites. “I got really mixed messages from the police. They arrested him, but they told me they couldn’t do anything until he physically harmed me.”

One police officer suggested she simply change her name. She went to her then MP, David Laws, who didn’t help. It was made harder because Curran was, by that stage, living abroad. But Goldrick Dean says she felt him watching her – when her son was born in 2009, somebody signed her up to the parenting website Mumsnet.

Meanwhile, she says, she felt her life was on hold. “My ambition was just quashed,” she says. “I used to be so vibrant, full of ideas. I just felt stifled. My confidence went.”

She stayed in marketing, which she enjoyed although it wasn’t really what she wanted to do. “I couldn’t apply for other jobs because if you tapped my name into the internet, it wasn’t nice.”

Although they had only planned to stay in their cottage for a couple of years, she and her husband stayed because it was safe – the back of the house was secure, and they had reliable neighbours. They reinforced the front door, and installed a door at the foot of the stairs so she could lock herself in when she went to bed while her husband was working away.

Goldrick Dean says she was “continually frightened and I think I held it all in for when I was alone”. Trying to control the websites became like another full-time job, emailing Google, emailing the domain management sites. “I would eventually go to bed in the early hours and then I would hear a noise, and it would be back downstairs and checking the windows. It became an everyday thing. We’ve lived with it. It was endless and frustrating.”

In 2016, Goldrick Dean started civil legal proceedings against Curran but the harassment did not stop – he updated and extended websites he owned. He did offer her a settlement, but one of the conditions was she could never speak about it publicly. She refused and it went to the high court.

If she had agreed to the non-disclosure agreement, she says, “I would be under his control for ever, so I had to make that choice. If I took it to the high court, I risked bankruptcy, but I had to.” The only way she could afford it was because her solicitor, the social media lawyer Yair Cohen, worked on a no win no fee basis, and her barristers, Gabor Bognar and Gervase de Wilde, worked pro bono.

She is thinking of setting up a campaign to work against online abuse and harassment. “It’s out there, it’s global. You can’t control it. It has been really frustrating, and emotionally I’ve been exhausted.”

How will her life change now? “In a big way. It’s just going to be a very free feeling. Sometimes I think I’m going to flip with joy because it’s like a freedom. I’m not embarrassed any more. I really do feel like I’ve got my voice back.”

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