Northern Ireland news

Teenager in court on rape and blackmail charges

The High Court in Belfast

A 17-year-old boy skilled in computer technology allegedly raped one girl and shared sexual photos he incited others to take after befriending them online, the High Court has heard.

He is also accused of blackmail and harassment in a case involving five suspected victims - including a 13-year-old girl with learning difficulties.

Prosecutors claimed the defendant, who is from Co Antrim but cannot be identified, poses a danger to vulnerable members of the public.

A judge heard he allegedly boasted to police about his computer abilities, saying that he deliberately sought out and crashed strangers' internet games.

The teenager is charged with 21 offences, including rape, causing a child to engage in sexual activity, trying to blackmail one alleged victim into paying £500, and multiple counts of possessing, distributing and inciting girls to take indecent photographs.

He faces further counts of unauthorised access to computer material by performing a function with intent to secure access to a programme or data.

The alleged offences were committed against teenage girls on dates between August and November 2018.

Conor Maguire, prosecuting, told a bail hearing the defendant denied raping one of the complainants, claiming they had previously had "an affair".

Mr Maguire contended that the accused's behaviour has escalated, describing the alleged victims as vulnerable due to their age or home circumstances.

"One of the injured parties is a 13-year-old with learning difficulties," he said.

Amid opposition to bail, it was claimed that the defendant's mother threw his phone into a river, resulting in the loss of critical evidence.

Another mobile seized as part of the investigation was said to contain non-sexual images of unknown babies.

"Given the applicant's particular skills in using computer technology, he would be able to evade police digitally and engage inappropriately with young females," Mr Maguire argued.

He alleged the accused was having difficulty managing his anger and self-control, expressed hostility to females, and "extreme levels of manipulation and control in both direct contact and online relationships".

The barrister added: "It's the police view this applicant is a danger to the public, and especially vulnerable members of the public."

Defence counsel Thomas McKeever argued that his client has spent almost a year in custody, with his mother shocked at the allegations against him.

"Her firm instructions are that she will do everything necessary to ensure safeguards are put in place," he said.

According to Mr McKeever a proposed bail address is up to 30 miles away from where complainants live.

Adjourning the application, Mr Justice Colton said he wanted to see a report and more information on supervision arrangements.

The judge pointed out: "It's a troubling case."

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