AN INSPIRATIONAL schoolboy who was targeted by sick online trolls had the last laugh today (January 1) when he received a prestigious award from the Prime Minister.

Zach Eagling, 12, from Hartshead, near Liversedge, has been given Rishi Sunak’s daily Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding individuals who bring about change for the better.

The 12-year-old led the Epilepsy Society’s campaign to protect people with epilepsy from online harm after he was targeted by internet trolls - resulting in Zach’s Law being brought into force.

Zach, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy which affects his mobility, spoke of his pride in changing the law and thanked the Prime Minister for the award.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, he was inspired by previous Points of Light winner, the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, from Keighley, to undertake a walking challenge in June 2020 around his garden for the Epilepsy Society.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Zach embarking on the walking challenge during the pandemicZach embarking on the walking challenge during the pandemic

However, things took a sinister turn when  Zach's fundraising page was targeted with content containing flashing images with deliberate intent to cause harm.

Zach, then eight, was hoping to complete 2.6km in laps around his back yard and raise £2,600 for the Epilepsy Society and his mum, Claire Keer, proudly posted a video of him on Twitter.

That was the moment that everything changed and Zach, though still at primary school, took the initiative to stand up for people with disabilities.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Zach celebrating the law being passed with his local MP Kim LeadbeaterZach celebrating the law being passed with his local MP Kim Leadbeater (Image: UGC)

In an unprecedented attack, internet trolls flooded the Epilepsy Society’s Twitter account, tagging the posts with key words that would be picked up by anyone who lived with seizures and specifically targeted people who were celebrating their one-year seizure free milestone- an important day as people can apply to drive again once they have been seizure free for 12 months.

“Time to end the streak” wrote the trolls beneath posts with vicious strobing, flashing images and geometric patterns.

Zach was one of their first victims and thankfully wasn’t harmed, but others were. Many reported seizures following the posts. This encouraged the trolls further. Maliciously and openly, they shared images which they recommended for giving someone a seizure.  

The Epilepsy Society reported the attack to the police but, it seemed, there was nothing anyone could do. The trolls were acting outside the law and the law, which had not kept pace with the digital world.

Undeterred, Zach still completed his challenge and began a campaign with his mother and the Epilepsy Society to introduce new legislation to safeguard people with photosensitive epilepsy from online trolls.

Alongside this, they have been working closely with social media platforms in creating methods to prevent strobing images on the internet.

Supported by MPs of all parties, Zach’s Law was included with the Online Safety Act, passed in October 2023.

Zach said: “I want to thank the Prime Minister for recognising my hard work and I’m pleased and proud that I’ve managed to change the Law.”

He has been congratulated on his award by the area's MP, Kim Leadbeater, who received a Points of Light award herself in 2018 in recognition of her work on loneliness to build a positive legacy for her sister, Jo Cox.

Ms Leadbeater, who was the UK’s 1000th Point of Light award recipient, said: “I’m incredibly proud and delighted to congratulate Zach on his very well deserved Points of Light award.

"How many children of his age can say that they have successfully helped to change the law of the land?

"His campaign against the evil online trolling of people with epilepsy was inspirational and both he and his mum, Claire, along with the Epilepsy Society, have made the internet a safer place.

"When the Online Safety Act was passed, and ‘Zach’s Law’ was finally a reality, it was a proud day for Zach and his family, for Hartshead where they live, and for Yorkshire.”

Claire, Zach’s mum, said: “We are all so proud of Zach. It is amazing to think that a schoolboy could stand up to the internet trolls and change the law, but Zach did it and this award is a wonderful recognition of his achievement.

"Our next step will be to see this law replicated worldwide as the internet is a global platform.”