The sister of a football fan who died in the Hillsborough disaster fought back tears in court as she told an internet troll, who had made a “Jewish rapists” reference and said he wanted to defecate on her brother’s grave, that he is a “sickening” coward.
Louise Brookes, 51, was speaking at London’s Stratford Magistrates’ Court as Zakir Hussain, 28, of Ilford, was given a 14-week jail sentence that was suspended for a year after targeting her in offensive Twitter messages in April 2020.
The messages were timed to coincide with the anniversary of the April 15 1989 disaster in which her brother Andrew, 26, was among 97 Liverpool fans who died as a result of a crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield.
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They were unlawfully killed amid a number of police errors, an inquest jury ruled in 2016.
Hussain had previously pleading guilty to five counts of sending messages on a public communication network that were grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
In one tweet, Hussain had sent message which was a photo of Mr Brookes that had four faeces emojis superimposed on to the image.
There were threats to deface Mr Brookes’ grave with urine and faeces, and he also made a “Jewish rapists” reference in one of his other tweets, the court heard.
District Judge Shanta Deonarine, who also ordered Hussain to pay £500 compensation to Ms Brookes and that he must do 200 hours of community work, said: “I do find there was substantial distress caused.”
She said the timing of the tweets was an aggravating factor, and added “this was an offence which took place using the internet with worldwide exposure” and through “targeted” comments “to maximise the effect to the deceased’s sister”.
Ms Brookes’ voice broke as she spoke of the personal trauma that she and other bereaved Hillsborough families have endured due to internet trolls as Hussain could be seen physically shaking and rubbing his face as he sat in the dock.
A number of bereaved relatives sat quietly at the back of the court to support Ms Brookes as she read her victim impact statement.
She said: “Zakir doesn’t know me and didn’t know Andrew. I have never done anything to Zakir. I didn’t event know of Zakir until he trolled me but he think’s it’s okay to abuse me and mock my dead brother and the other Hillsborough victims and survivors.”
“Well it is not okay and I’m not going to tolerate it. How many other disasters and tragedies do you know of where the innocent dead victims are blamed for their own deaths?”
Ms Brookes described the trolling as having been “relentless” since the disaster 34 years ago, and that those who do it need to be made accountable.
She told the court: “These trolls have had a significant affect on both my mental health and physical health over the years.”
“I suffer with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and PTSD. I have been prescribed by my GP to take Prozac and propranolol to try and control my depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I am taking the highest dose allowable.”
She said there have been days when she even “seriously considered killing myself because I just can’t take anymore”.
The trolling has “significantly got worse” since 2016 when a jury found the victims had been unlawfully killed and the survivors from the crush were exonerated, she told the court.
Hussain has never been to Liverpool, was not born at the time of the disaster and knows he “made a mistake that has hurt many people in the court”, his lawyer Clementine Simon said.
She added: “He is sorry and he is so ashamed that he does not want someone to let his brother into the court.”
He has written a letter to the court saying his remarks were a “stupid mistake” he made during lockdown. He is no longer on Twitter and does not have an online presence.
A hearing to decide on a football banning order is set to take place at Thames Magistrates’ Court on July 11.
Hussain also pleaded guilty to possession of a class B substance. He was not given an additional penalty for drugs possession when police found six cannabis cigarettes in his bedroom.