Northern Ireland

Newry man charged in huge 'catfish' child abuse investigation

Newry Magistrates Court
Image caption The accused appeared at Newry Magistrates Court on Wednesday

A 21-year-old man from County Down has been charged in what is thought to be UK's biggest 'catfish' child abuse investigation.

Alexander McCartney of Lissummon Road, Newry, appeared at the city's magistrates court on Wednesday.

He is charged with possession, making and distributing indecent images of children.

McCartney is also charged with sexual activity with a child and intimidation to commit sexual activity with a child.

The alleged offences are said to have taken place between May 2018 and July 2019.

'Distressed states'

Members of McCartney's family were in the public gallery to hear him say he understood the charges brought against him.

In a statement, the prosecution said it is estimated that McCartney had more than 300 alleged victims, who he often contacted on social media.

The court heard that McCartney would befriend a child by pretending to be someone else before asking them for an image.

This is known as 'catfishing', where someone creates a fictional online persona to lure someone.

He would later write to the alleged victim telling them if they didn't do as he said, he "would show your nudes for all the world to see".

The prosecution said that the children targeted, aged between 10 and 12 and mostly female, were "left in distressed states".

'Race against time'

The court also heard that McCartney had also been selling indecent images on a fraudulent account, through which he earned £700 in three weeks.

He had previously told police that he had a gambling addiction and was £1,000 in debt.

The court heard that following his initial arrest and release, police had discovered that McCartney continued to contact his victims the next day.

The prosecution said that "it would be a race against time for police to get to the victims before he does, if he were released on bail".

McCartney's lawyers argued he had a clear record could be managed under strict bail conditions with the support of his family.

District judge Eamonn King said he feared for the safety of the defendant, saying "there are no conditions that I could impose that would manage the risk in this case".

The case was adjourned to 28 August and McCartney was remanded in custody.

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