Jail for pupil who threatened teacher's unborn baby in chilling extortion plot
A straight-A student who threatened her teacher's unborn baby and blackmailed her into sending sexually explicit pictures has been jailed.
Ordering 19-year-old Amie Danby to spend a year in custody and the rest of her 33-month sentence on supervised licence, Downpatrick Crown Court Judge Piers Grant told the teenager her threats to the baby were "quite outrageous" and "disgraceful".
Imposing a 10-year restraining order barring the Holywood teenager from contacting her victim or her family, the judge said the £15,000 extortion plot had been "pre-planned and persistent", leaving her victim suffering mental torture in the form of flashbacks, nightmares and significant psychological harm.
During previous court proceedings, Judge Grant had heard that as well as threatening her victim's unborn baby, A-Level student Danby had adopted several different identities to demand that the teacher send explicit photographs and text messages.
Danby also threatened her victim with paramilitaries if she didn't comply, and used several aliases when contacting her.
Such was the level of fear the female teacher was subjected to, she acquiesced, and even handed over £5,000 to Danby, from West Link in Holywood.
Danby pleaded guilty to a single charge of blackmail on dates between May and June last year in what was described as a "unique and bizarre case".
However, the large majority of that cash, some £4,400 was recovered, along with two mobile phones used in the plot when police searched Danby's property.
When arrested Danby at first tried to claim that one of the aliases she had created was real and that she had been put up to it by paramilitaries.
But the court was told that by pleading guilty, she accepted that was not true. Defence QC Gregory Berry revealed that since gaining three As in her A-Levels, Danby had started a degree at the University of Ulster, a course she has been unable to continue since she was sent to prison before Christmas for breaching bail when she turned up at her victim's house.
The lawyer submitted that act was "in a rather ironic and strange way, her desire to express remorse directly", and was yet another "peculiar fact in a peculiar case".
Describing the case as "frankly unique", and revealing that full restitution had been made, Mr Berry urged Judge Piers Grant to pass a sentence that would allow Danby to recommence her studies as soon as possible.
But the judge told Danby that despite the case not involving "paramilitary or criminal gangs," a custodial sentence was well merited because "the threats were very significant, there was a high level of serious threat, and they increased incrementally as time passed".
Judge Grant said Danby "denied having any sexual interest or fantasy relating to the victim" despite the fact that Danby also sent the teacher sexually explicit images of herself.
He told Danby, who turns 20 next month, she was a pupil of "exceptional talent" but that "the other problems in your life need to be seriously addressed".
She was handed a 33-month sentence.
Smiling, straight-A student unmasked as the calculating and disturbed woman behind vile campaign of blackmail
BY CHRIS KILPATRICK
If presented as the script for a Hollywood movie it would be rejected for being too far-fetched. But the sinister exploits of a Co Down teenager were all too real for the teacher she subjected to a vile campaign of humiliating intimidation.
Straight-A pupil Amie Danby blackmailed her victim into sending her sexually explicit pictures, as well as thousands of pounds.
Behind Danby's diligent, bubbly facade was a manipulative and cunning young woman intent on extorting large sums from her victim, using whatever means she deemed necessary – including threatening the school staff member's unborn child.
The scheming teenager created four different aliases and her attempts to extort large sums of cash with the threat of violence – including the use of paramilitaries – weighed so heavily on the victim that she handed over £5,000 in a desperate effort to end the intimidation.
Danby's academic achievements were trumpeted on the website of her secondary school and she was pictured gleefully clutching her exam results.
The school's principal had previously commended her and other pupils who earned top results in their A-Level examinations, saying they "have been dedicated and self-disciplined throughout the two years and in addition have made an invaluable contribution to the life of the school, as peer mentors, volunteers and ambassadors".
Danby also boasted on her Facebook account of working part-time at the home of Ulster Rugby, Ravenhill.
Even after she had been arrested, Danby's relentless pursuit of her victim continued, the student being brought before a court after turning up at the terrified woman's home.
Eventually Danby was forced to own up to her myriad of lies.
A judge heard how Danby began texting the teacher as part of a "ruse", telling her that paramilitaries wanted to use her home but that she would act as a go-between "to try and protect her from these individuals".
Prosecuting lawyer Sam Magee told the court how Danby sent numerous texts to the teacher "claiming that she was going to be attacked in her home" before she began to receive texts from another number and a girl claiming to be called 'Kirsty' who had taken over as a supposed mediator.
'Kirsty' told the victim that Danby herself was pregnant, was "at risk" from these sinister individuals. And then another persona introduced himself, 'Oddly', who told the victim that Danby had been carrying his baby but had miscarried because she had "got a beating".
With demands of £15,000 to "stop the activity" having been levelled and "pleading" for it to stop, 'Richard' began texting the victim to say that he was "interested in her sexually".
"Amie Danby, purporting to be Richard, sent thereafter a series of text messages asking personal questions of a sexual nature," said Mr Magee, adding that 'Richard' sent explicit pictures and demanded the same in return, threatening that her house "would be checked while she was out".
Chillingly, towards the end of April "she received a text message saying that Richard intended to rape her", and when he demanded more explicit photographs of herself, more were sent.
Meanwhile, another pretend man had come on the scene, this time called 'Nelson', who instead of demanding she hand over £15,000, asked for half of that but issued threats which "directly threatened the life of her unborn child" and warned that if she did not make payments she would be made homeless.
"The truth, of course, was that Amie Danby was inventing these events," said Mr Magee.
Following a search of her Holywood home, police recovered £4,400 of the money the teacher had handed over as well as two mobile phones used during the vile campaign.
As Danby begins her prison sentence, a future which had appeared so promising is in tatters and the mask of the bright and cheerful 19-year-old removed to reveal a cold, calculating and disturbed woman.