Northern Ireland man charged in biggest UK internet child abuse investigation of its kind
A 21-year-old Northern Ireland man has been charged in the biggest UK internet child abuse investigation of its kind, with hundreds of alleged victims via social media.
Computer science student Alexander McCartney is charged with possession, making and disturbing indecent images of children, sexual activity with a child and intimidation to commit an act of sexual activity with a child.
The offences are alleged to have occurred between May 2018 to July this year.
Members of the defendant’s family were in the gallery at Newry Magistrates Court to hear the Ulster University Jordanstown final-year student state that he understood the charges.
McCartney, of Lissummon Road, Newry, showed little emotion as the charges, involving 45,000 original images alleged to have been made by him, were read out.
A prosecution lawyer said the child abuse images, some with children forced to put their underpants in their mouths, were just “the tip of the iceberg”, with over 300 alleged victims identified to date — 35 in the UK alone.
Opposing a bail application, a PSNI detective sergeant referred to a report from the National Crime Agency which gathered information to show a blackmailing scenario of the defendant forcing alleged child victims to increase levels of grossly offensive images or risk having a naked photograph exposed to family and friends.
One alleged victim has been identified as a 12-year-old girl from Scotland using ‘Snapchat’.
Other social media included ‘Facebook’ and ‘WhatsApp’, the target age of children was from 10 to 12 years old and mostly females “left in distressed states”, according to prosecution.
It is said that Mr McCartney would befriend a young child before asking them for an image, a pre-typed threat was then was used, stating: “All right, I’m a catfish ... you are going to do as I say or I will show your nudes for all the world to see.”
The investigation found that ‘Snapchat’ maps had been made locating the children on the seized devices, thought to be for future reference.
The images under investigation have also been said to have been for sale on fraudulent female ‘PayPal’ accounts, with advertisements at $20 and $50 price ranges for ‘CA’, thought to mean ‘Child Abuse’ material, for sale of alleged victims.
The magistrate heard that the accused was earning £700 in three weeks, thought to be from such sales.
The defendant has previously told police that he was a gambling addict with £1,000 debts.
The court heard that following his initial arrest and release, the defendant continued to Snapchat victims the very next day.
On his latest arrest, police discovered Mr McCartney on his bed with his Snapchat open on a device that he should not have, with communications made from 4.09am.
Prosecution stated thousands of more images with many more victims had been found on the phone, with an “escalating volume” increasing “every minute”.
“It would be a race against time for police to get to the victims before he does, if he were released on bail,” said prosecution.
The court heard the accused had already run away from home to Dublin, leaving a note saying “I can’t take it any more”. However, he returned some days later.
A defence lawyer said that his client, who had a clear record, could be managed under strict bail conditions with the support of his family “standing right by him”.
The court heard that the PSNI was liaising with his university and that it was “unlikely that he would be returning to his studies in September”.
“This case will take, not months, but years,” said the barrister.
District judge Eamonn King alluded to a fear of flight and the risk of personal safety of the defendant, who “faces a number of child sexual abuse charges involving a significant number of victims”.
“The defendant has been the subject of an investigation from a far back as 2015,” he said.
“There are no conditions that I could impose that could manage the risk in this case.”
The case was adjourned to August 28, with the accused remanded into custody.
Belfast Telegraph Digital