Northern Ireland

Ronan Hughes: Man charged in webcam blackmail probe

Ronan Hughes Image copyright Mid Ulster Mail
Image caption Ronan Hughes took his own life in June 2015 having been blackmailed online

A man has been charged by police investigating the death of County Tyrone schoolboy Ronan Hughes.

The 31-year-old appeared at Bucharest municipal court in Romania, charged with producing and distributing indecent images of children as well as blackmail.

He was remanded in custody.

Ronan Hughes, a 17-year-old from Coalisland, took his own life in June 2015 having been the victim of what the police call webcam blackmail.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it had been liaising with a number of agencies in a variety of jurisdictions as part of the investigation, including the Romanian Police, Romania's Directorate for Investigating Organised Crime and Terrorism, the National Crime Agency, and Europol.

PSNI's Detective Superintendent Gary Reid said PSNI detectives are currently in Romania assisting with the investigation.

"This has been complex and protracted and we are grateful to our colleagues in our partner agencies for their assistance to date," he said.

Det Supt Reid confirmed the man would be tried in Romania with the assistance of the PSNI.

"We'll be taking over our information that led to today's arrest," he said.

Calling on anyone else who finds themselves in a similar position to Ronan Hughes to contact police, he added: "We understand people might be embarrassed by it but we would say please, set that aside.

"If you don't feel comfortable speaking to us, speak to a third party because we don't want any more deaths."

Analysis: Vincent Kearney, BBC News NI Home Affairs correspondent

This is potentially a huge success for the PSNI.

At the time of Ronan Hughes' death, few expected any arrests to be made.

The police warned at the time that catching anyone involved would be extremely difficult because they were based "on the other side of the world".

Ronan's parents said they believed their son had been targeted by a gang based in Nigeria.

The PSNI publicly agreed that the blackmailers were probably based somewhere in Africa.

But privately their investigations led them in a different direction.

The PSNI's specialist cyber-crime unit was able to trace the computer used to blackmail the teenager.

They then worked closely with police in Romania.

A number of PSNI officers then flew to Romania to arrest the suspect.

The police will hope this arrest will send a strong message that distance doesn't protect from detection and prosecution of suspected internet crimes.

Ronan was tricked into sharing intimate images of himself online, and some of them were then sent to his friends when he failed to pay a ransom.

Just hours later, the teenager, who was a pupil of St Joseph's Grammar in Donaghmore, took his own life.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Police in Northern Ireland say 100 webcam blackmails have been reported to them this year

Earlier this month, the PSNI said that 100 webcam blackmails had been reported to them this year.

They said people of all ages have been targeted, adding that cyber-stalking was becoming a "prevalent issue" in Northern Ireland.

Webcam blackmail involves overseas criminals scouring the web for people they can build a rapport with, before deceiving them into performing a sexual act on video.

The footage is recorded and then used to blackmail victims for money.

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