Businessman falselyÂ branded a paedophile by online bully forced to close vape shop after losing Â£75,000 in trade
THE owner of a vape shop forced to shut his business after being wrongly branded a paedophile has watched the 'internet troll' who targeted him brought to justice.
For six months suppliers and friends of Paul Cheape were contacted by Oliver Redmond, 37, who falsely told them the businessman had sex with underage Eastern European girls.
Stress of fearing he would be wrongly targeted by paedophile hunters left Mr Cheape suffering anxiety, hair loss from his beard and head, and a '˜deep fear' of being away from his home.
At one point men came into his Southsea shop making reference to the fake claims with customers leaving the premises, he told The News outside court.
Devastated Mr Cheape, 32, told magistrates he was forced to close Steamachine in Elm Grove, Southsea, after losing Â£75,000 in 2017 despite having been on courseÂ to have his most successful year.
In one message written on a Spotted Portsmouth post, Redmond said: '˜Steamachine is fine so long are you're not a 13-year-old girl.
'˜I'm not saying the owner's a self-confessed predator of underage Eastern European children... but I wouldn't ask him to babysit.'
Portsmouth Magistrates' Court heard Mr Cheape realised he was being targeted after friends and suppliers showed him messages written by dad-of-three Redmond, of Stirling Street, Buckland.
Giving evidence, Mr Cheape said: '˜I took both my laptops to Hampshire Constabulary and I said to them if I'm under investigation I'm offering my laptops to you now and I'm happy to hand myself in.
'˜They were unwilling to assist me - they said this was ridiculous.'
He added: '˜Genuinely at this point, I was scared.
'˜These days it doesn't take much for people to hound somebody.
'˜I genuinely feared that there was a a concerted effort, an aggressive effort, from Mr Redmond to cause significant financial damage to the business and myself.
'˜I thought the best course of action was to be clear.'
Scots-born Mr Cheape told magistrates he found an address online linked to Redmond in Southsea and visited it '“ only to find it was the internet troll's mother Nicola Redmond's home.
Once there he told Mrs Redmond a '˜white lie' that her son had left an expensive bit of vape kit in his shop.
Borrowing her phone he called Redmond, leaving him a voicemail saying he needed to speak urgently to him.
Redmond's mother then handed over her son's phone number '“ allowing Mr Cheape to try and call the troll using a new SIM card he bought for that purpose.
Magistrates heard Redmond did not answer but called the businessman back, immediately launching into a racist tirade.
'˜He basically said '˜hello Paul', and at this point ... he [later] said I was breathing,' Mr Cheape said.
'˜I didn't have a chance to immediately respond when Mr Redmond immediately launched a tirade of verbal insults regarding my nationality to the effect of: 'Why don't you **** off back to Scotland you sheep sh*****'.
'˜Then I tried to respond and I was then insulted further by being called a dirty paedophile jock.'
Asked how he felt about the abuse, Mr Cheape said: '˜'Upset, as I consider myself to be a British person, I didn't see my nationality as a bar to living in England.'
Under cross-examination the businessman was asked why he made several calls to Redmond afterwards.
He added: '˜Mr Redmond has been calling me a paedophile for almost a year.
'˜My main concern was to reach out to Mr Redmond and talk to him after the tirade of abuse that he put to me.'
Redmond said the phone call never happened, denying a charge of making a malicious communication.
But magistrates saw through his softly-spoken demeanour in court and convicted him of the abusive call on September 25 last year. Smartly-dressed Redmond admitted harassing Mr Cheape between June 1 last year and January 19 in what prosecutors called a '˜hate campaign' against him.
Asked about his actions in court, Redmond said he now saw them as '˜silly'.
Despite admitting the harassment, Redmond still tried to minimise what he did.
But magistrate Sian Bamber ruled there was '˜substantial evidence' to what he did and added: '˜We accept fully the prosecution case.'
Ms Bamber said she was looking at sentencing him between a community order and up to 12 weeks in jail.
Speaking outside court after watching the trial, Mr Cheape said: '˜I feel like people like this don't have a place to hide.
'˜The CPS said that they've never prosecuted on this basis before.
'˜This is an internet troll being brought to justice.
'˜The business has suffered to the point where it's no longer viable because people believe that we're paedophiles.
'˜I've seen such a sharp decline in business.'
Mr Cheape is still tied into the lease at his premises in Elm Grove but hopes to open a new business there.
Redmond will be sentenced on August 15.
Mr Cheape said he was targeted by Redmond after a dispute with a former employee at Steamachine who was pals with Redmond.