Man in court in ‘revenge porn’ case

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A man was refused bail accused of fraud and harassment arising from allegations of so-called revenge porn.

Married, father of two, 46-year-old Neil James Edwards appeared in Dungannon Magistrates’ Court on Friday having been arrested in England and brought to Northern Ireland by PSNI Cyber Crime officers investing a case of alleged revenge online porn.

Whilst the case does not appear to have been motivated by financial gain, a detective told the court police believe it was “to satisfy sexual needs and to exert control over females, picked randomly.”

Edwards of Millenium Close, Northampton is accused of dishonestly making a false representation on dates between 11 and 14 September 2014, claiming to own a model agency.

He is further accused of pursuing a course of conduct amounting to the harassment of a female on dates between 16 September and 13 November 2014.

Recounting the details of the case the detective explained how the injured party is a female in her 20’s from County Fermanagh, who received a telephone call in September last year from a person purporting to be carrying out a beauty survey on behalf of a magazine.

She willingly engaged and was later introduced via Facebook to a person claiming to be female and representing a model agency.

The court heard that over the next two months she supplied 59 images on request, ranging from “fully nude, semi-nude, and three were classed as explicit.”

The injured party believed these photographs were required to create a 3D body scan to support a modelling contract but on 13 November 2014 she was advised no such model agency existed and was led to believe this was orchestrated by a teenage male from her home town.

She was then made aware, through another Facebook profile that her images had been posted on revenge porn websites, along with her name and personal details.

These messages continued, in which demands were made for further images, with threats that the existing ones would be posted online for thousands to see.

Officers traced the messages to Edwards and arrested him at his place of work on 16 December, on suspicion of blackmail.

The detective said officers seized three mobile phones, one of which contained the injured party’s details and texts, revealing that the identity of five other women were located during this search, all of whom have been spoken to and revealed similar allegations.

A computer, laptop and USB sticks were also recovered and Edwards confirmed owning them.

These underwent a preliminary forensic examination, said the officer and a hidden folder was located which contained 126 subfolders, 42 of which are named after females including the name of the injured party from Fermanagh.

There were also 69 encrypted images and the detective told the court that “to date, the accused has refused to supply the encryption key to police.”

The court heard the defendant “strenuously denies any blackmail” and enquiries into this are ongoing.

In respect of the phone recovered with the injured party’s details, Edwards claimed he “found it on a train” but refused to elaborate.

Objecting to bail the detective said, “There has been nothing to suggest there was an attempt to gain financially, but police believe it was instead to satisfy sexual needs and to exert control over females, picked randomly.”

He contended that due to multiple identities, the nature of the alleged offences and use of a browser which disguised his identity, the risk of reoffending was high and there was a strong likelihood of witness interference.

A defence solicitor argued however “there is no telling where this investigation is going to go. Outside the two charges, there is only speculation.”

District Judge John Meehan disagreed however, telling the solicitor: “No – there is the encrypted key. The court is led to believe there will be further charges.”

The defence solicitor submitted that restrictions on web use could be put in place to assuage police concerns but Judge Meehan said, “There is a sensitive nature to this and there is a strong prosecution case.

“This is an extremely serious, sinister kind of offence of the violations and exploitations which rise from modern technology.

“With the depth of following with Facebook I am not persuaded against risk. Cases such as these reflect the preying upon and stalking of innocent women. In this cyber age boundaries fall away and can become international.”

Bail was refused and Edwards was remanded in custody to appear by video-link at Fermanagh Magistrates Court on 13 January.