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Teenager accused of vast ‘catfishing’ enterprise granted anonymity

The case first reached court when the accused allegedly tricked a child by posing as a 12-year-old girl

Dungannon Court

A teenager accused of a litany of charges relating to an alleged ‘catfishing’ enterprise which is suspected  of being involved in the targeting of some 20 child victims has been granted interim anonymity.

The case first reached court when the accused allegedly tricked a child by posing as a 12-year-old girl, with this occurring while he was already on bail and under investigation for similar matters.

Lawyers for the teenage defendant applied to have his identity withheld due to concerns for his safety, which was granted by District Judge Michael Ranaghan, however, he pointed out this would be kept under review.

The accused faces two separate sets of charges, the first of which relate to the alleged possession of indecent images of a child in June 2023, with a view to distribution and inciting a child aged under 13 to engage in sexual communication.

It is further alleged he blackmailed the child by threatening to kill himself unless he received indecent images.

Matters moved to July 27, 2023 when he is accused of assaulting three police officers who called at his home in relation to the alleged offences.

A detective sergeant previously told Dungannon Magistrates’ Court a report was received from Greater Manchester Police after the mother of an 11-year-old boy found suspicious messages on his phone.

The profile claimed to be a 12-year-old girl and the messages began with discussions around PlayStation games but then became “sinister, with sexual content”.

The mother obtained the profile number and on ringing it, quickly establishing it was not a 12-year-old girl.

Police ascertained the number was the accused’s who was on bail while enquiries into similar allegations were underway.

The detective said once made aware of the new allegations police attended the accused’s home to arrest him, however he, “threw himself over the banister of a staircase in an attempt to flee then assaulted three officers”.

His phone was seized and a number of indecent images of the victim were allegedly recovered.

There was allegedly evidence of engagement with other children and some images obtained had been distributed.

It emerged the accused allegedly sent the boy a £20 voucher for a PlayStation game in return for sexual images.

Court heard in other messages he threatened to kill himself if images weren’t sent; claimed to have cancer, and discussed having sex with other young people.

The detective said: “He has now come to attention a few times for this sort of crime, commonly known as catfishing, which is very compulsive behaviour.

“He has lived with his parents under bail conditions, but this hasn’t stopped him. While on bail he set himself up a new profile claiming to be a 12-year-old girl. The messages show a high level of coercion and exerting pressure on some of the most vulnerable in society.”

A prosecuting lawyer told the court phone analysis has so far identified a further 20 potential victims, each of whom have to be contacted and this is expected to take some time as they are believed to reside outside Northern Ireland.

Judge Ranaghan remanded the accused on continuing bail of £500 bail with a surety of £500, to return to court on April 2.

There are also conditions of residence at an address approved by police, a ban on all access to internet-enabled devices and phones and no contact with the alleged victims nor any children unless approved by Social Services.

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