Youngster celebrates new law after campaign against trolls targeting epilepsy
A 12-year-old boy who began campaigning for Zach’s Law after online trolls targeted his epilepsy is “over the moon” that the measure has made it to the statute book, his family has said.
Zach Eagling’s campaign finally succeeded when the Government’s Online Safety Bill passed its final parliamentary hurdle on Tuesday.
Zach’s Law, which formed part of the Bill, creates a specific offence of targeting people with epilepsy with flashing images on the internet, punishable with up to five years in prison.
Zach (pictured with mum Claire), who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy following a brain injury at birth and has epilepsy, began campaigning after he was trolled following a charity challenge he undertook during the Covid lockdowns.
He completed a 2.6km walk (1.6 miles) unaided in the summer of 2020, raising £20,000 for Epilepsy Society.
At the same time, the Epilepsy Society’s social media pages were targeted with flashing images in an attempt to cause seizures among the charity’s followers, including Zach, who is from Liversedge, West Yorkshire.
The Epilepsy Society said many seizures were reported but nothing could be done as those who posted the messages were not breaking the law.
Zach’s mother, Claire Keer, 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.”
She said: “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.”
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.”
Ms Pelham said: “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.”
She said she believes this is the first time anywhere in the world that a law has been written specifically to protect people with epilepsy.
Rachelle Mahapatra, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who secured Zach a substantial settlement to fund the specialist care he needs, 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.”
Zach’s MP, Kim Leadbeater, said: “I was knocked out by Zach. He’s a force to be reckoned with. For many years, vile online trolls have targeted people with epilepsy, sending them flashing images and GIFs, trying to trigger a seizure.
“Zach stood up against this. When he asked me to help, along with Claire and the Epilepsy Society, I was only too happy to do everything I could.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Ant Oxley / Irwin Mitchell / PA.