THE dad of a missing girl who became the target of a sick internet troll has welcomed tougher new punishment for cyber-bullies.
Hartlepool man Richie Lee says it is “about time” that sentences were made harsher for those who hide behind a computer screen to abuse others.
New measures will allow magistrates to pass on serious cases to the crown courts, where offenders would face a maximum of two years behind bars.
The 64-year-old’s daughter Katrice vanished from a Naafi store, in Paderborn, Germany, where Richard was serving as a Sergeant Major with the British Army, on her second birthday, November 28, 1981.
Katrice has never been found and Royal Military Police chiefs finally issued an apology to the family in 2012 after admitting a series of failings in the initial investigation.
The family was dealt a fresh blow in 2013 when Donna Wright, 34, harassed Katrice’s mother Sharon and sister Natasa, in Gosport, Hampshire.
Wright, of Oak Terrace, West Cornforth, turned nasty after a DNA test proved she was not the missing girl and sent spiteful messages over Facebook.
She was given a suspended sentence, but ignored this and admitted also harassing Richard after conclusive phone records were produced.
On December 2 last year, she rang him at 11.45pm and several times after that, despite a restraining order to prevent her from contacting Katrice’s family.
She was sentenced to 14 weeks in prison in June.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced that internet trolls will face up to two years in jail, where previously the maximum sentence was six months.
Former postman Richie, of the Stockton Road area, said: “It’s about time, it’s been long overdue.”
But he added that it was up to the courts to make sure they enforce these sentences.
Richie, who joined forces with Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg in a scheme to teach schoolchildren about the effects of cyber-bullying, said: “But they have got to follow up with their promises.
“Until such times as the trolls see that sentences are going to be robust and they are going to stick to their word, it will continue.
“But I don’t think they will take any notice. Let’s face it, they believe they are untouchable.
“They are brave on the computer, but if they come face to face with the victim, they wouldn’t say boo to a goose.
“That’s what I find frustrating.
“I also find it upsetting in the fact that you get a person at the end of the computer who presses a send button, but they are not bothered about what’s happening at the receiving end of that computer.
“Somebody at the other end has got a life, which they are possibly shattering.”
He said cyber-bullying had almost become the norm and the only way was to “stamp it out at grass roots level”, in schools.
Mr Grayling said the plan was a sign of his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.