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Crime gang's blackmail should have been given priority

By Deborah McAleese

Published 17/06/2015

The blackmail of schoolboy Ronan Hughes by an international crime gang was not dealt with as a police priority.

When a distressed Ronan and his worried parents turned to the police, their cry for help was not considered by officers to be an emergency.

Just a month earlier Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw warned that austerity measures meant officers were having to prioritise their "limited resources" across an "extensive and complex set of demands".

Seven months ago the PSNI's Chief Constable warned that because of crippling budget cuts police were going to have to focus on incidents that involve a "threat to life".

Ronan's death could not have been foreseen and he was therefore not categorised as being at risk.

But for a mother and a father who lost a son this case highlights the danger of prioritising victims.

"I do not accept that police cuts have anything to do with this.

"Officers should have recognised the seriousness of the situation and addressed it urgently," Policing Board member Jonathan Craig said.

Ronan was blackmailed by an international crime gang who threatened to post intimate photographs of him on social media unless he paid them more than £3,000. He found the courage to contact the police for help, but they were unable to prevent the gang from carrying out their threat.

The 17-year-old's case has once again brought to the fore the perils of social media and the difficulties police forces face when trying to tackle international cyber crime.

It is not within the power of the PSNI to shut down offending online sites. It can only lodge a request with a social media platform, which will then prioritise that request.

Unfortunately, the particular social media platform in Ronan's case is understood not to have prioritised a PSNI request until after his death.

Ronan will not be the only victim of ruthless cyber criminals.

If we are to avoid another tragedy like this, social media users need to become better educated about the dangers they face every time they log online.

Police advise users not to share personal information with people they don't know, or post anything online they would not be happy being shared. Parents are also advised to talk to their children about internet benefits and dangers.

Useful advice and information on how to stay safe online can be found at

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