Discovering identities of internet users who post defamation on the internet

The Evening Standard reported today about Paul Britton, a web developer who used his SEO skills to defame a former client. The web developer pleaded guilty to harassing his own client by creating a derogatory website about him and was told by a Crown Court judge at Kingston Crown Court that he might go to jail when he gets back to court for his sentencing hearing.

Paul Britton, of Turnham Green Terrace Mews, Chiswick, who owns the web design and online marketing company Origin Design, embarked on a campaign of defamation and intimidation against his own client following a dispute over an outstanding invoice of less than £200.

Professional web designers who go online to defame their own clients understand the web very well and know how to avoid detection so it is difficult to prove that they created the defamatory website and it is almost impossible meet the standard of proof that is required by the criminal law which is “beyond reasonable doubt”.

The case of the web developer Paul Britton seemed no different. Paul Britton purchased the domain name he used to defame his client with false credentials and he also gave false information to his USA based hosting company, GoDaddy. He then used Paypal to pay for things so as to avoid leaving any digital footprints. Finding waterproof evidence against seemed almost impossible.  The police in such cases are unwilling to spare resources to try and gather evidence because the quality of the evidence might be too poor to be presented in a criminal court.

It is however possible for anyone to gather themselves the necessary evidence, preferably through lawyers who will secure the integrity and the quality of the evidence, and then work in co-operation with the police to secure a successful criminal prosecution against an online offender.

The case of Paul Britton is an excellent example of such co-operation:

In this case, we worked together with the Metropolitan Police to gather the evidence needed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Britton created the defamatory website against his own client.  For a criminal case the evidence has to go far beyond the discovery of IP addresses as those only prove links between computers but tell you nothing about the computer’s user.

In the case of Britton, to prove his involvement with the defamatory website we had to gather evidence that included telephone records, recordings of telephone conversations between him and his online service providers as well as information about passwords that he used to access his online services and accounts. To secure invaluable evidence quickly we issued subpoenas in various US States that compelled  GoDaddy, Paypal and other online service providers to hand over even more important evidence.

We handed all the evidence to the Metropolitan Police, whose dedicated officers arrested and charged Britton with harassment. Having been confronted with the evidence, Britton had no choice but to confess.

He will be sentenced in January at Kingston Crown Court.

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