Belfast Telegraph

Police say others being targeted for blackmail like Ronan Hughes

By Adrian Rutherford

Police are investigating other blackmail cases involving international crime gangs similar to the one that targeted schoolboy Ronan Hughes.

The PSNI has received a number of reports from people in Northern Ireland, but said there are more victims who have not come forward.

The details emerged as an MLA called for an urgent review of the case.

Ronan (17) took his own life earlier this month after being tricked into sharing intimate images via Facebook.

His family said a Nigerian gang demanded more than £3,000 from their son. When the ransom wasn't paid, they sent images of him to his friends on social media.

Ronan took his own life hours later.

Police have confirmed they are investigating other similar allegations in Northern Ireland.

Det Supt Jonathan Roberts, a member of a specialist team tasked with investigating cyber crime, said the blackmailers were based thousands of miles away.

"We've received a number of reports from persons who feel that they have been blackmailed as a result of footage that they have willingly participated in and which could be embarrassing if released," he said.

"It is our assessment that the perpetrators of these crimes may well be located in another jurisdiction, possibly on the other side of the world."

Det Supt Roberts said there could be many more victims who are too embarrassed to seek help.

He urged anyone who has been the victim of a similar crime to come forward, saying complaints will be treated with discretion.

"Given the potential embarrassment for anybody who is the victim of such a blackmail, it is our belief that such crimes are probably under-reported, and in some cases some people may prefer to pay money rather than contact the police and seek assistance," he added.

Det Supt Roberts said the PSNI had established procedures for dealing with webcam blackmails.

"Even though it may be embarrassing, anybody who is the victim of such a crime should be reassured that we are able to deal with it," he added.

The Hughes family criticised police "inaction" after the blackmail was first reported. The case has since been referred to the Police Ombudsman's office.

In the Assembly on Tuesday, SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly called for a critical incident analysis.

She said there was a need to identify what happened with the aim of preventing it from occurring again. Responding to a question from the Upper Bann MLA, Education Minister John O'Dowd said he was open to having a review.

"I have no difficulty in engaging with, or even suggesting to, other departments and agencies that we have a critical incident review".

He said he would consult with other departments to determine when a review could be carried out.

Belfast Telegraph


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