A Lurgan teenager was remanded into custody today accused of blackmailing young girls into sending explicit images which he then allegedly sold.
Appearing at Lisburn Magistrates’ Court by videolink from police custody, 19-year-old Max Hollingsbee confirmed he understood the eight offences against him.
In seven charges alleged to have been committed on October 11, last year Hollingsbee, from Orient Circle in Lurgan, faces two counts of blackmail, two of distributing or showing indecent images of children as well as single charges of possessing indecent images, sexual communication with a child and the improper use of a telecommunication network to send an indecent message.
On an eighth count dated between January 1, last year and April 7 this year, the teenager is alleged to have misused a telecommunication network to send a false message.
Detective Constable Egerton told the court how Hollingsbee had been on police bail for the seven older offences when “further evidence came to light and the police have evidence that he has continued to use social media despite his bail conditions preventing such.”
Describing his methods as using “aggressive and intimidating behaviour” online, the officer told the court that according to the police case, Hollingsbee created fake social media profiles and posing as a young female, enticed other young girls to send images.
Once those had been sent however, the teenager threatened them with exposure “if they did not co-operate” with his demands for further explicit images.
Detective Constable Egerton claimed that Hollingsbee has continued to access teen centred chat rooms where images are exchanged and has conducted internet searches suggesting he has “a great interest in young females”.
“We believe he is a risk to vulnerable adults and children,” said the officer, claiming that Hollingsbee sells images on and then blackmails the people he sold the images to.
“This is a considerable, seizable, well established enterprise and a pattern of behaviour that has shown no sign of stopping,” declared Det. Const. Egerton.
Turning to specific bail objections, she said while the teenager has a clear record he had continued to offend while on police bail and there were fears that if released Hollingsbee, a computer science student, “could delete and dispose” of evidence and images and “cloud based data” which he had stored.
Defence counsel Seamus Lannon submitted that now his parents “are alert to police concerns, they will take a role in supervising any liberty that may be granted by the court.”
He argued that as a “key time” is approaching in his four year computer course, if Hollingsbee was remanded that would result in him being kept back a year, something he described as a “disproportionate sanction.”
“He now properly understands the difficulty he faces because he is in court on these matters,” said the barrister, “if that doesn’t give him a clear warning, nothing will.”
Mr Lannon submitted that Hollingsbee had instructed he wound comply with any bail conditions and his release would allow him to complete his computer course.
“I don’t think he would be doing that,” said District Judge Rosie Watters, “even it he was released he would not be able to have any device that can access the internet.”
The judge told the court “I don’t understand how he did not understand how serious it was in the first place.”
“These are horrible, insidious offences involving young people and I’m going to refuse bail because I’m concerned about further offences and him obstructing the investigation,” said District Judge Watters.
Remanding Hollingsbee into custody, she adjourned the case to April 28.