A sex therapist who carried out a ‘vicious and frightening cyber bullying’ campaign against a rival on Facebook has been ordered to pay out £75,000 in harassment and libel damages by a judge.
Siobhain Crosbie branded sex addiction counsellor Caroline Ley a ‘monkey’, a ‘cow’ and a ‘devil’ in online posts, threatened to break her legs – complete with a ‘lol’ – and whipped up hatred against her after they fell out over business matters.
Ms Crosbie, who charges up to £200 a session for help with issues including ‘sexual dysfunction’ and ‘transgender difficulties,’ had claimed former friend Ms Ley stole her clients after they fell out in 2011.
Ms Ley, 51, studied under Ms Crosbie and worked for a time from her therapy practice, APS Psychotherapy and Counselling, in South Woodford, east London, before leaving to set up her own practice nearby.
Ms Crosbie, 55, claimed that subsequently her own business mysteriously nosedived and it was not until 2016 that she discovered Google enquires for her counselling service were being diverted to Ms Ley’s business.
Sex therapist Siobhain Crosbie (pictured) who carried out a ‘vicious and frightening cyber bullying’ campaign against a rival on Facebook has been ordered to pay out £75,000 in harassment and libel damages by a judge
Siobhain Crosbie branded sex addiction counsellor Caroline Ley (pictured) a ‘monkey,’ a ‘cow’ and a ‘devil’ in online posts, threatened to break her legs – complete with a ‘lol’ – and whipped up hatred against her after they fell out over business matters.
She claimed Ms Ley, a ‘sex addiction’ specialist who charges £100 for an individual 50-minute session, had deliberately interfered with online search tools and profiles to poach her clients.
But she then went on to ‘whip up hatred’ against Ms Ley by posting the allegations on a Facebook group, threatening her with violence – followed by a ‘lol’ – and branding her a ‘monkey,’ a ‘cow’ and a ‘devil’.
At the High Court, Ms Crosbie sued Ms Ley for £1,422,418.80, plus interest of £456,109, alleging ‘cyber fraud’ and insisting she had ‘passed off’ her business as her former mentor’s.
But Mr Justice Julian Knowles this week dismissed her claim, while allowing Ms Ley’s counterclaim for defamation and harassment in relation to the Facebook group, ordering Ms Crosbie to pay £75,000 in damages.
Describing the bullying as ‘vicious and frightening,’ he rejected Ms Crosbie’s argument that the online threats and jibes were ‘banter’ and also hit her with an injunction, banning her from publishing further allegations.
At the trial in March, Gervase De Wilde, for Ms Ley, had told the court that the two women became friends and later colleagues after meeting on holiday in 2005.
Ms Crosbie was an established therapist and Ms Ley subsequently undertook a degree in psychology and a placement with Ms Crosbie as part of her training before renting a counselling space from her in 2010 and 2011 as she established her own practice, he said.
But the two women ‘parted ways professionally and personally at the end of 2011,’ he said, with Ms Ley going on to set up her own business nearby in Buckhurst Hill.
Ms Crosbie told the judge from the witness box that it was shortly after this that she noticed her business beginning to flatline.
Sex therapist Siobhain Crosbie pictured outside London’s High Court
Mr Justice Julian Knowles this week dismissed Ms Crosbie’s claim at the High Court in London (pictured), while allowing Ms Ley’s counterclaim for defamation and harassment in relation to the Facebook group, ordering Ms Crosbie to pay £75,000 in damages
Her barrister, Janaka Siriwardena, said: ‘At some point in March 2016, she discovered that if you clicked on to the phone number on her web listing, this connected to a phone number controlled by Ms Ley.
‘Also, clicking on the directions icon led a web visitor to directions to Ms Ley’s (business) address.
‘In March 2016, Ms Crosbie complained to Ms Ley that she had deliberately directed potential visitors to her own business and, as a result, that Ms Crosbie had suffered a loss.
‘Ms Crosbie also discovered that a listing for her business on psychotherapy.co.uk coincidentally again led to Ms Ley’s business. Ms Crosbie did not consider this to be coincidental.’
In reply, Ms Ley’s barrister told the judge: ‘At some point in March 2016, Ms Crosbie discovered a listing…apparently displaying the address of her business, Ms Ley’s phone number and Ms Crosbie’s website.
‘She complained to Ms Ley unreasonably that this amounted to her having “taken over her website”.’
He dismissed the problem with the online listings as ‘a quirk of Google’s algorithm… both businesses having operated briefly from the same premises’.
But he said Ms Crosbie had gone on to complain of ‘cyber fraud’ to the police and embarked on a four-year social media campaign against her rival.
‘By 2020, both the extent of Ms Crosbie’s campaign of publications and the seriousness of the allegations she was making against Ms Ley had intensified, causing enormous distress anxiety and reputational damage to her,’ he told the judge.
‘Ms Crosbie carpet-bombed the Facebook groups where both their colleagues, peers and students congregated online with repetitions of her allegations.
‘It is hard to conceive of any complaint against a former colleague based on a business dispute, no matter how well-founded, could justify the terms in which Ms Crosbie made her allegations of wrongdoing.
‘These encompassed criminality, fraud, dishonesty, tax evasion.’
Ruling on the case yesterday, the judge dismissed Ms Crosbie’s claims as ‘without merit’ and went on to allow her rival’s harassment and defamation claims against her.
He said: ‘I have reached the conclusion that the defendant has made out her case against the claimant in harassment. In total, the publications spanned over four years, from 2016 onwards.
‘There is no doubt that the claimant’s course or courses of conduct were protracted. In my judgment, the claimant’s posts were persistent, deliberate, oppressive and unacceptable.
‘The campaign was clearly and deliberately targeted… the foreseeable response to it was vicious and frightening. It was calculated to, and did, whip up hatred for Ms Ley and to put her in fear for her safety.
‘The campaign was relentless over a period of three to four weeks and I am satisfied, on the evidence, that has had a lasting adverse effect on Ms Ley.
‘The use of a Facebook group was deliberately to recruit others to “gang up” on [Ms Ley], whilst [Ms Crosbie] and some of the commentators who chose to post comments on the page hid behind online anonymity.
‘This is a hallmark of “cyber bullying”. It is a particularly pernicious form of harassment because the victim may well feel constantly under siege and powerless to stop it.
‘Overall, my assessment is that this was a very serious and nasty case of online harassment that has frightened [Ms Ley] and caused her very real upset, fear and distress.
‘The overwhelming number of respondents were hostile to Ms Ley, with many calling for her to be removed from the profession and/or for her prosecution. One respondent said she would have “smacked her one”.
‘Another called her a “b****”. The claimant’s falsities therefore acted as an “echo chamber” and served to magnify the harassment and oppression experienced by Ms Ley.
‘There are the threats of violence and other intemperate language which the claimant used. There were, for example, references in the claimant’s posts to her slitting the defendant’s throat; the claimant breaking the defendant’s legs; her employing a “hit man” and punching the defendant in the face.
‘There were also references to “annihilation” and to the defendant being a “monkey”, a “devil” and a “cow”.
‘I find the claimant’s threats of violence especially concerning. In her statement she tried to explain them as being “Irish Cultural language” and that she was being humorous, and had included “lol”.
‘In cross-examination, she said they were just “banter”. However, even if she was telling the truth, the defendant was not to know that at the time. Anyone would have been alarmed reading the claimant’s threats, whether accompanied by “lol” or not.
‘Also, I find it surprising that the claimant, as a member of a profession where high standards of behaviour are expected – a point she repeatedly stressed – should have thought it appropriate to publicly abuse a fellow professional as a ‘monkey’ and a ‘cow’.
‘The claimant’s claim for passing off is dismissed. It was totally without merit. The defendant’s claims for defamation and harassment succeed.
‘The defendant is awarded £75,000 general damages for defamation and harassment. There will be an injunction to restrain further publications by the claimant.’