Zach’s Law: Liversedge youngster ‘over the moon’ as online bullying law comes into effect - with offenders facing five-year prison sentence

A Liversedge youngster is ‘over the moon’ after a law in his name designed to help combat online bullying came into effect - with offenders now set to face five years in prison.
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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.

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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.

Liversedge youngster Zach Eagling with his mum Claire Keer. (Photo credit: Ant Oxley/Irwin Mitchell).Liversedge youngster Zach Eagling with his mum Claire Keer. (Photo credit: Ant Oxley/Irwin Mitchell).
Liversedge youngster Zach Eagling with his mum Claire Keer. (Photo credit: Ant Oxley/Irwin Mitchell).

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“Zach and Claire have been relentless in championing our campaign and together we have won. Zach is a superstar.

"But I would also like to thank the government and MPs from across the House who recognised the severity of the impact of a seizure on someone with epilepsy and have acted swiftly to bring these stealthy criminals within the jurisdiction of UK law.

“I believe this is the first time anywhere in the world that a law has been written specifically to protect people with epilepsy and I feel proud that our country is leading the way in protecting disabled people in the digital world.”

Rachelle Mahapatra, a specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who secured Zach his settlement and supported him and Claire during the Zach’s Law campaign, said:

“Zach is an incredible young man and he continues to astound me time and time again.

“He has shown such courage and determination over the years and I had no doubt that Zach’s Law would be passed. Zach should be immensely proud of what he’s achieved.

“Bullying in any form is unacceptable and I’m pleased that the online measures are being tightened. Everyone, particularly people with disabilities who are some of the most vulnerable in society, should be treated respectfully and feel safe when using the internet. Zach’s Law is a major step towards that.”