Zach’s Law: Liversedge youngster ‘over the moon’ as online bullying law comes into effect - with offenders facing five-year prison sentence
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Zach Eagling, 12, who has epilepsy, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy following a brain injury at birth and he became a target of internet trolling when he took part in a challenge to walk laps of his garden during lockdown in aid of the Epilepsy Society.
Zach, whose condition affects his mobility and cognitive development, completed 2.6km unaided in the summer of 2020, raising £20,000 for the charity. However, at the same time, the Epilepsy Society’s social media pages were being targeted with flashing images in an attempt to cause seizures among the charity’s followers, including Zach.
Alongside his mum, Claire Keer, and the Epilepsy Society, Zach began campaigning for the legislation around online bullying to be strengthened, as the trolling led to many seizures being reported. It was backed by Irwin Mitchell, the Law Commission, and a number of MPs, including Kim Leadbeater, who represents Batley and Spen.
In December last year, it was declared that Zach’s Law would become law across England, Wales and Northern Ireland and it came into statute yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. Now, as a result of Zach’s Law, such offences around online bullying and trolling can incur a five-year prison sentence.
Zach also won the Outstanding Achievement Award at the 2022 Yorkshire Children of Courage Awards.
Claire said: “I say it all the time, but I’m so proud of Zach and his achievements. When we started our campaign, I’m not sure that either of us thought it would go this far. So to know Zach’s Law is now an actual law is amazing.
“Zach was deeply upset at the online trolling and was determined to make it stop. He’s done that now and he’s over the moon about it. All Zach ever wants to do is help people, and that’s such a wonderful trait to have.
“We’re also both very grateful for all the support we’ve had pushing through Zach’s Law. It’s been a long process and a lot of work and effort, but it’s been worth it.”
Clare Pelham, chief executive at the Epilepsy Society added: “This is an historic day for everyone with epilepsy. Three years ago, when the Epilepsy Society’s Twitter account was flooded with flashing images and GIFs designed to cause seizures, we felt helpless in trying to stop them. The trolls were operating beyond the reach of the law because the law, written in the time of typewriters and printer’s ink, had not kept pace with the digital world.
“It is life-affirming today to be celebrating the enactment of the Online Safety Bill which includes a new law – Zach’s Law – which means the trolling of anyone with epilepsy deliberately to cause seizures is now a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. And importantly social media companies who have provided a fertile environment for these keyboard warriors to hide in plain sight, will also face heavy penalties if they allow this behaviour to continue.
“Zach and Claire have been relentless in championing our campaign and together we have won. Zach is a superstar.