A Co Down finance student was sentenced yesterday for blackmailing a vulnerable woman in a bid to raise funds to pay off gambling debts.
Michael McBurney, who is currently studying a Masters in Finance and Accounting at Queen's University, was handed two years probation and 100 hours community service at Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast.
The 30-year-old, from Mourne Rise in Newcastle, was also ordered to pay the woman £300 compensation, and appeared in court via a videolink.
Judge Geoffrey Miller QC had heard the 25-year-old woman had been out with friends in Newcastle on March 30 last year.
Crown barrister David McClean said that afterwards, she was approached by McBurney on Main Street, who asked if he could walk her home. He said he was a policeman, and when they arrived at her home, she invited him in. They watched TV and talked, and he left at around 6.30am. When she checked social media later that day, she realised she was already a Facebook friend with a Michael McBurney.
On April 1, the woman received a Facebook message from a friend who asked for her mobile number. That evening, the woman received a call from a male with an English accent.
He told the woman she had been seen with a policeman called Michael and that people in the area were not happy about it. He said "bad stuff would happen to her" in Downpatrick if she didn't pay £300.
After the woman told the caller she only had £150, he warned her not to tell anyone and to leave the money behind a bin in Newcastle.
With the caller still on the phone, the woman left her home and left the money behind a bin. The woman later told a relative what had happened and police were alerted. An investigation was launched and McBurney was arrested on April 16.
Whilst in custody an officer recognised McBurney from an incident earlier that month where he claimed to be a policeman. His mobile was seized and examined, and messages to a female asking her to get him the mobile number of the victim were found, along with a large number of messages demanding the repayment of debts.
McBurney later admitted a charge of blackmail, saying he owed money to people over gambling debts.