Belfast Telegraph

Jail term for man who blackmailed Tyrone teen Ronan Hughes 'not enough'

By Allan Preston

A four year jail sentence for a Romanian man found guilty of blackmailing a Coalisland teenager who later took his own life, has been criticised by an MLA as not reflecting the suffering he caused.

Ronan Hughes was 17 when he died in 2015 after being blackmailed online. Yesterday a Romanian man, Iulian Enache (31), was sentenced to four years in prison, but under Romanian law will serve three years, meaning that with time already served he will walk free on October 29, 2019.

He pleaded guilty last week in a court in Timisoara, Romania, to blackmailing Ronan Hughes and producing/distributing indecent images of a child.

SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone praised the efforts of the PSNI and Romanian police, but said the four year sentence did not reflect the suffering of the Hughes family.

"I'm glad someone has been convicted of this crime but the family have been left with literally a life sentence," he said.

"Ronan took his life as a consequence of the pressure he had been put under and the blackmail. I and many others would have wished the sentence was much more strict and heavier than it was."

Child safety expert Jim Gamble - a former PSNI officer and former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre - called the conviction "a pivotal moment" for police working to bring online predators to justice.

"This a really strong message for individuals who prey on children online that when the police collaborate they will be identified, located and held to account," he said. "I'm wary of the sensation that can be generated around this, the Hughes family will be reliving the trauma of this with every headline.

"This is a really pivotal moment, without sensationalising this we need to get the message out that the police can track those individuals who try and use the anonymity of the internet to prey on children."

He acknowledged the sentence didn't fit the crime, but said it remained important that "something had been done to identify this predator and hold him to account".

"The very fact that he's been identified means that when he's released he will be monitored to the degree that he cannot hurt another child in this way."

Mr Gamble also urged parents to discuss the case with their children.

Commenting on the conviction yesterday, Detective Chief Inspector James Mullen, from the PSNI's Criminal Investigation Branch, said: "This has been a tragic case and first and foremost in our minds are the family of Ronan Hughes who have lost a son and a brother. We must never forget that."

He said the two year investigation had been "complex and protracted" and thanked Romanian Police, Europol and the National Crime Agency for their help.

He added: "A four-year prison sentence is no compensation for the loss of Ronan Hughes - a young man who had his whole life ahead of him - however, there can be no doubt that the sentence means others will be spared the pain and loss experienced by the Hughes family at the hands of Enache."

DCI Mullen urged anyone experiencing anything of a similar nature, such as receiving inappropriate images or links, to contact police or tell a trusted adult. "You will not get into trouble," he said. "This tragic case highlights that police will do all they can to pursue these online criminals who are preying on our communities."

  • Extensive advice on how to stay safe online is available at www.getsafeonline.org.

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