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Slur made life hell, says Net victim

Joe Clancy reports on how the Friends Reunited website proved to be anything but for former teacher James Murray

A retired teacher who won Britain's first-ever Internet libel payout has told how his life was made hell after slurs were posted on the popular Friends Reunited website.

James Murray said neighbours bombarded him with abuse and he had a live bullet thrown at him in a town centre car park.

This week he was awarded pound;1,250 by a small claims court after it heard how a former pupil libelled him on the website used by millions to contact old school friends.

Jonathan Spencer, also a teacher, posted a message suggesting his former languages teacher was sacked after making rude remarks about girls.

But Mr Murray, 68, of Tealby, Lincolnshire, had taken early retirement from Ridgewood comprehensive in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, in 1983 after a 32-year unblemished career.

A judge at Lincoln county court agreed that the claims had destroyed his professional character. Mr Murray added: "I live in a village and word very quickly went round. One man abused me in the street, calling me a dirty little pervert. I have suffered sleepless nights and eight months of stress."

Mr Murray asked the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, of which both are members, to take disciplinary action against Mr Spencer, but the union refused`.

Mr Spencer's solicitor, Robert Glassford, said his client, who teaches at a special school in Gateshead, now wants to bring the matter to a close and get on with his life. He said: "Mr Spencer has at no point denied liability for damages and had offered an apology. He would like to reiterate that the entry was not deliberately intended to cause any harm to Mr Murray."

Friends Reunited lists more than 40,000 schools and colleges and has five million regular users. Last year the National Association of Head Teachers threatened to seek to have the site closed down after claims that it featured allegations of paedophilia and alcoholism about teachers.

The site then installed a "report abusive message" button. Anyone spotting an offensive comment can alert operators, who will remove it.

David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said: "Friends Reunited took action so these aberrations could be removed, and matters have improved considerably since our discussions with them."

A spokesman for Friends Reunited said: "Abuse of the site is taken very seriously. This kind of problem is very rare. Most users who contact us are positive."

WHAT'S NOT TO SAY

Here are some comments about teachers posted on the website before action was taken to filter them out.

* Very fond of the old slipper.

Would get great pleasure hitting us.

* Used to keep a bottle of drink in the stock cupboard.

* I remember people saying: '"Be careful he doesn't look down your top."

* Poisonous little reptile with green socks and a stunning string vest collection.

* Blatant homosexual who took out his frustrations on his pupils.

* The time he got wasted on the choir trip to Oxford was timeless.

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