A man who blackmailed a Northern Irish schoolboy who went on to kill himself has been jailed for four years in prison.
Iulian Enache, 31, tricked Ronan Hughes into sharing intimate photos of himself and then sent the pictures to the 17-year-old’s friends after the teenager failed to a pay a ransom.
Police say the schoolboy was the victim of what they call webcam blackmail where victims are duped into sharing private photos and then told they will be distributed to relatives and friends unless they pay money.
Ronan, from County Tyrone, went on to take his own life in June 2015 just hours after some of the pictures were shared online.
Enache pleaded guilty last week after appearing in court in Timisoara, western Romania, his home country, on charges of blackmail and of producing and distributing indecent images of children.
Although he was sentenced to four years he will serve three under provisions made in Romanian law and will be released in October 2019, taking into account the time already served.
James Mullen, a detective chief inspector with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), said: “A four-year prison sentence is no compensation for the loss of Ronan Hughes, a young man who had his whole life ahead of him. However, there can be no doubt that the sentence means others will be spared the pain and loss experienced by the Hughes family at the hands of Enache.”
He said it had been a complex and protracted investigation over two years involving Romanian police, the PSNI, Europol and the National Crime Agency (NCA). The conviction is a huge success for the force as at the time of the teenager’s death it was deemed unlikely that any arrests would be made.
At first the teenager’s parents said they believed their son had been targeted by a Nigeria-based gang. However the PSNI’s cyber crime unit were able to trace the computer used to blackmail Hughes to Romania and worked closely with local police to track down the suspect. Enache was arrested in October last year in a joint operation between the PSNI and the Romanian police.
Mullen said the Hughes family, from Clonoe near Coalisland, had shown great dignity and displayed co-operation and patience during the investigation. The senior officer also appealed to parents and guardians to do all they can to keep their children safe from online criminals. “We are all aware of the part social media plays in today’s society. Therefore it is incumbent on everyone to do what they can to stop offenders like Enache,” he said.
“I would also urge anyone who has experienced anything of a similar nature, or has received any inappropriate images or links, to contact police or tell a trusted adult.”