A Newry man has been sent for trial on 193 charges relating to so-called “catfishing” involving nearly 60 alleged blackmail victims.

Catfishing involves using a fake identity online, usually targeting someone for abuse or fraud.

The accused is 22-year-old university student Alexander McCartney from the city’s Lissummon Road.

He faces 79 charges of causing or inciting children under 16 to engage in sexual activity.

Mr McCartney is also accused of:

  • 58 charges of blackmail in that he allegedly demanded “with menaces” the victims send him indecent or compromising photographs of themselves
  • 41 charges of making or possessing indecent images of a child
  • 11 charges of distributing indecent images
  • Single counts of intimidation, sexual communication with a child, possessing prohibited images of children and possessing criminal property.

All of the charges are alleged to have been committed on dates between 15 March 2014 and 31 July 2019.

A prosecuting lawyer told a previous hearing it is the “biggest case of its kind” in the UK.

During an unsuccessful bail hearing in April, a prosecuting lawyer outlined how the investigation began in March 2018 when Scottish police alerted the PSNI to a so-called “catfish” incident involving a 12-year-old girl who was befriended on Snapchat.

It is the police case that the schoolgirl sent a naked picture of herself to the defendant who is then alleged to have blackmailed her that “if she didn’t do what was asked her image would be uploaded to the internet”.

Police enquires identified Mr McCartney and when his home was searched, police seized a computer and mobile phone which when examined, officers uncovered thousands of images of young girls in “various states of dress and undress, performing various sexual acts”.

After that initial complainant came forward, over the next number of months three more alleged victims reported that the same thing had happened to them.

Arrested and interviewed for those initial allegations, Mr McCartney refused to answer police questions and was originally formally charged last July.

Previously, the 22-year-old university student had faced 410 charges across two bills of indictment but that has been condensed down to 193 charges on a single indictment which has now been returned to the Crown Court for trial.

According to the particulars of the 193 charges which have been sent to the Crown Court, there are 58 alleged blackmail victims who were threatened to send McCartney explicit images of themselves with 47 of them incited to engage in sexual activity.

Of those 47 complainants, many of whom were allegedly contacted through Snapchat, three are adults and 44 are children including four who are younger siblings of alleged victims.

Remanding Mr McCartney back into custody, a judge ordered him to appear at Newry Crown Court for his arraignment on 17 November which will be the first time the charges are put to him.

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