Nearly 400 Cases of Cyber Bullying Investigated by Police Last Year; VICTIMS RANGE FROM TEENS AS YOUNG AS 14 TO CELEBRITIES

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Byline: HELEN TURNER

ALMOST 400 incidents of cyber harassment and bullying were investigated by police in Wales last year, we can reveal.

Victims of abusive, threatening or harassing messages sent via social networks included teenagers as young as 14.

The problem has increasingly hit the headlines in recent months with celebrity victims Katherine Jenkins and former Miss Wales Imogen Thomas complaining publicly about being subjected to vitriolic online attacks.

Away from such high profile cases, in the SouthWales Police force area alone 331 harassment-related incidents classed as "e-crime" were investigated, but resulted in just three arrests.

A Freedom of Information request identified 46 cyber crimes in the Dyfed-Powys Police area, resulting in 12 arrests.

Offences included 10 hate crimes, one kidnapping and one threat to kill. Eight victims were under the age of 20. In North Wales, where 18 crimes on social networks were recorded, police investigated one offender for harassment while using a false identity.

Two cases were referred to the High Tech Crime Unit in Gwent, involving harassment messages, and e-mails sent to trustees of an organisation alleging homophobic harassment and bullying. However no further action was taken.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) Centre is currently running a programme called Thinkuknow to educate children and young people about the dangers of "trolling" they face online.

A spokesman said: "Trolling is a description given to someone's online actions that are deliberately inflammatory or abusive. It ranges from posting a nasty comment on a social networking profile, or a football forum to extreme and persistent abuse.

"It could include harassment, bullying or anything that causes distress to another. The effects can be devastating. Too few people realise that in acting this way online you can quickly break the law. People may think they can remain anonymous when they are online, that they can say and do things they wouldn't dream of doing in real life without consequences."

A spokesman for eCrime Wales said: "The e-Crime Partnership, which includes the four Welsh police forces, works to raise awareness of e-crimes of all kinds. …