Belfast Telegraph

Tragic schoolboy Ronan Hughes 'targeted by criminals from abroad'

By Adrian Rutherford

A schoolboy who took his own life may have been blackmailed by criminals from abroad.

Ronan Hughes is believed to have killed himself after being duped into posting photographs on the internet.

Last night it emerged that individuals overseas may have been trying to extort money from the 17-year-old.

His school principal Geraldine Donnelly said: "It appears that this is something different and even more sinister than online or cyber-bullying.

"What we're possibly looking at here is some international element of Ronan having been targeted from abroad purely and only to extort and blackmail him for money."

Earlier, hundreds of mourners packed St Patrick's Church in Clonoe to pay their final respects to the teenager.

During the emotional service, a priest said criminals had taken advantage of his youth and fragility to exploit him and break him.

Fr Benny Fee said: "He was young, he was beautiful, and had his whole life in front of him.

"But with youth comes its own fragility, and some people took advantage of his beauty and fragility.

"They exploited him and they broke him, and if they could do that to such a sensible fella as Ronan, they could do that to anyone.

"May God forgive them."

Ronan, from Coole Road in Aughamullan, near Coalisland, took his own life on Friday.

Police said he had been tricked into posting images on a social networking site.

The tragedy has caused an outpouring of shock and grief across the close-knit east Tyrone community.

It prompted the PSNI to issue advice to young people about the need to be careful when using the internet.

A special meeting will be held in Donaghmore tonight where the PSNI and online experts will be on hand to address parents' concerns.

During yesterday's Requiem Mass, Fr Fee warned of the dangers posed by the internet.

"Dear Ronan was a victim of the abuse of the worldwide web.

"An abuse of the social media by criminal people who lured Ronan into their sticky parlour of greed and evil," he added. "It was a web whose callous preying today scars the heart of the home that [Ronan's parents] Teresa and Gerard created for their children."

Fr Fee expressed his hope that those involved would be brought to justice.

"Somewhere in the big world today, perhaps very far from Clonoe, there is a man, or a woman, or a gang who are guilty of a terrible crime," he added.

"And while I wish that faceless man or woman no ill, that man or woman who lured this child into a web which took his life, I do pray with all my heart that they may be caught and that they may be brought to justice for the pain and the agony they have brought to the Hughes family.

"Those faceless people, it is true, were not down in the back field at Aughamullan last Friday afternoon, but they might as well have been there.

"For it is they who committed the heinous crime that has robbed the best of a father, the best of a mother, of a fine son; and the best of a brother and the best of a sister, of a playful brother.

"They robbed them of Ronan."

Speaking after the funeral, Ms Donnelly, the principal of St Joseph's Grammar in Donaghmore, also urged young people to be careful on the internet.

"There are sinister elements out there who would attempt to use it for their own perverted and depraved purposes," she told the BBC.

Ms Donnelly said it was her understanding that an attempt to blackmail Ronan for money by people abroad was being investigated.

"It would appear so - that is certainly the line of inquiry that we've been told police will follow," she added.

She said she would remember Ronan as a "wee gentleman".

"I will remember Ronan with great, great fondness - a big, broad smile; big, crinkly eyes; he'd a great wee sense of humour."

She added: "He was a lovely wee gentleman and he had such a wide circle of friends and they have been absolutely devastated by their loss."

  • If you or someone you know is in distress, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. This is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help on the phone and follow up with other support if necessary. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can access Lifeline at

Further Reading

Survivors and bereaved of online bullying send out heartfelt support 

Ronan Hughes funeral: Priest calls for bullies who drove schoolboy to his death to be brought to justice

Schoolboy Ronan Hughes's life taken by faceless online bullies

Internet demands our vigilance 

Ronan Hughes tragedy shows how social media has put risk of humiliation at an all-time high 

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