Woman fined €1,200 for social media post identifying teens in murder trial
Rebecca Ryan apologised to court and families for identifying boys in post
Woman’s solicitor told the court that the tweet was done on the “spur of the moment” and that she deeply regretted it. Photograph: Alan Betson / THE IRISH TIMES
A Waterford woman has been fined €1,200 for a social media post identifying two teenage defendants in a murder trial.
Rebecca Ryan (25), with an address at Priory Lawn, Ballybeg in Waterford city, avoided prison for the charge at Waterford District Court on Thursday.
The shop manager pleaded guilty to identifying the boys in the post, which included “crude red circles” around the heads of two individuals in the tweet, according to Sgt John Phelan.
Ms Ryan was charged with two counts under section 252 of the Children’s Act relating to the publication on Twitter, in or around June 19th, 2019, of images of the teenagers.
Both a court order and the Children’s Act prevent the identification in any way of the two boys.
Sgt Phelan outlined the tweet to the court, where Ms Ryan posted a caption alongside the photo which read: “Two dirty murdering . . . b******s. How could anyone protect their identities?”
Sgt Phelan read from transcripts of interviews between Ms Ryan and investigators, where she said she didn’t follow the case closely and kept up to date on it through social media.
Her solicitor, Hilary Delahunty, told the court that the tweet was done on the “spur of the moment” and that she deeply regretted it. She had seen the post on Facebook, shared it, then saved the image to her phone and posted it on Twitter. This all took “about a minute”, she said.
He told the judge that her tweet came from a “misplaced” feeling of “profound indignation”.
“The abhorrence the court feels about this interfering with a case is similar to the abhorrence Ms Ryan felt when she learned of the details [of the murder],” Mr Delahunty added.
Ms Ryan said abuse received since her court appearance in October has been “horrible” and said she was “very sorry” for her actions: “I shouldn’t have posted it because the families are trying to move on from it . . . I’d like to apologise to the court and the families.”
Ms Ryan had undertaken courses in data protection and children’s development since the case came about, Mr Delahunty said.
The defence added that she was not aware of the court order at the time of her tweet. However Judge John O’Leary said “the trouble” with that stance was the last part of her tweet, where she disagreed with attempts to shield the boys’ identity.
References were handed in to the judge from Ms Ryan’s employer, her local boxing club, and the Ballybeg Action Group, a community group for which Ms Ryan collects toiletries and food for people in need. The defendant’s co-operation with investigators was also cited.
Giving his verdict, Judge O’Leary said: “It’s a grave matter in that the defendant . . . broke the law in relation to the protection of the anonymity of children.”
The penalties for the charges in the district court are a maximum fine of €1,500 and/or a prison sentence of up to 12 months.
He took into account Ms Ryan’ s apology, her character references, her data protection studies and the “hate mail” she has received as a result of the case.
Aggravating factors in the case included that Ms Ryan “doesn’t quite admit she knew what she was doing”, Judge O’Leary said. He added that the court “has no doubt she knew exactly what she was doing” when she posted the tweet, given the wording used by Ms Ryan.
He said that there was also no doubt that she was very sorry for posting the tweet. Ms Ryan had taken information from social media, something that is “endemic in society at the moment” and which would need to be addressed, Judge O’Leary said.
Judge John O’Leary gave Ms Ryan six months to pay the fine.
Nine other people are accused of similar charges relating to the murder trial.