Northern Ireland news

Newry student charged in huge 'catfish' child abuse case

Alexander McCartney

A CO Down student has been charged in what is thought to be UK's biggest internet child abuse investigation.

Alexander McCartney (21), of Lissummon Road, 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 from May 2018 to July 2019.

The accused, a final year computer science student at Ulster University, appeared yesterday at Newry Magistrates Court where the charges were read to him involving 45,000 child abuse images.

The court heard more than 300 alleged victims, who he often contacted on social media, had been identified to date, 35 of which were in the UK.

The court heard that McCartney would befriend a child by pretending to be someone else before asking them for an image.

This is known as 'catfishing', where someone creates a fictional online persona to lure someone.

He would later write to the alleged victim telling them if they didn't do as he said, he "would show your nudes for all the world to see".

The prosecution said that the children targeted, aged between 10 and 12 and mostly female, were "left in distressed states".

One alleged victim has been identified as a 12-year -old girl from Scotland using ‘Snapchat'.

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 in debts.

The court heard that following his arrest and release, the defendant continued to Snapchat other young people the very next day.

The prosecution said that "it would be a race against time for police to get to the victims before he does, if he were released on bail".

McCartney's lawyers argued he had a clear record could be managed under strict bail conditions with the support of his family.

District judge Eamonn King said he feared for the safety of the defendant, saying "there are no conditions that I could impose that would manage the risk in this case".

The case was adjourned to 28 August and McCartney was remanded in custody.

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