Belfast teen who blackmailed ‘vulnerable’ gay man over his sexuality sentenced

Stock image of a gavel to illustrate a Belfast court story

A Belfast teenager has been given a suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay compensation after he blackmailed a “vulnerable” gay man over his sexuality. 

On Wednesday (6 March), Judge Donna McColgan handed down a two-year jail sentence, suspended for three years, and ordered him pay £5,000 to the “vulnerable” man, from whom he extorted money, Belfast Live reported.

The defendant, aged 17 at the time of the offences between June and August 2020, admitted three charges of blackmail. The court heard that he began messaging the victim, a man in his twenties, threatening to tell his parents he was gay. 

When the victim said his parents knew about his sexuality, the defendant “bombarded” him with threatening messages, demanding money. According to crown prosecutor David McNeill, a total of £395 was paid out in total. 

The blackmail was described as “persistent and forceful”, with the court hearing that the defendant knew about the man’s autism and “took advantage of it”.

In mitigation, Sean Mullan said he client accepted his actions were “wholly unacceptable”. Calling the amount of money involved “low level”, he pointed out if not for the long delay in the case being heard, the defendant would have appeared before a Youth Court.

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Judge McColgan, also issued the teenager with a five-year restraining order and told him that the compensation “covers not only the money you extracted from him… but also a sum of money to reflect the damage you have caused to his psychological wellbeing”.

A report released in December revealed that crimes against LGBTQ+ people are rising throughout the UK, with 67 per cent reporting having avoided holding hands with a partner in public in the past 12 months out of fear of a negative response.

And recent Home Office data shows that to the year ending March 2022, sexual orientation hate crimes in England and Wales rose by 41 per cent, to 26,152 cases – the largest increase since records began in 2012.

Transgender hate crime has also risen in England and Wales, with an increase of 56 per cent to 4,355 incidents.

Anyone who has witnessed or experienced a hate crime is urged to call the police on 101, Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the True Vision website. In an emergency, always dial 999.