Man who launched cyber-attacks on police websites jailed

Credit: Cheshire Constabulary

A 20-year-old man who carried out cyber attacks on police websites as revenge for being convicted of a bomb hoax has been locked up for 16 months.

Liam Watts, from Chorley, Lancashire, targeted the Greater Manchester Police (GMP) website in August last year and then carried out an attack on Cheshire Police sites in March.

Sentencing him at Chester Crown Court on Monday, Judge Patrick Thompson said the offences were "an attack on law and order in this country".

Watts admitted two counts of unauthorised acts with intent to impair operation of or prevent/hinder access to a computer at a hearing in April.

Chris Taylor, prosecuting, said the computer systems were targeted in distributed denial of service or DDoS, attacks, where malicious software is used to create a network of computers, or botnet, which can target a website and overload it.

He said the botnets could be bought online for less than 100 dollars (£82).Mr Taylor said after the attack on the GMP website on August 22, a Twitter account with the name Synic, which was later linked to the defendant, claimed responsibility.

Credit: Pete Byrne/PA

Police searched Watts's home and he admitted he had carried out the attack.

On March 22, while investigations into the initial attack were still ongoing, the websites of Cheshire Police and its police and crime commissioner were targeted.

A tweet posted on an account linked to the defendant said: "@Cheshirepolice want to send me to prison for a bomb hoax I never did, here you f****** go, here is what I'm guilty of."

The court heard the attack on the GMP site caused minimal impact, but the attack on Cheshire Police stopped people from reporting crime online over a weekend and meant the 3,000 to 4,000 people who normally visit the site daily were unable to access it.

Watts, of Stratford Road, had been convicted of unauthorised use of a computer in 2016 following a similar attack on his college, the court was told.

He also had a conviction for attempted robbery and in 2017 was convicted of a bomb hoax committed eight days after the terrorist attack on Manchester Arena.

Chester Crown Court Credit: Pete Byrne/PA

Patrick Williamson, defending, said Watts, who is adopted, had "very significant difficulties" including ADHD and alcohol-related neuro development disorder due to his background.

He said before the attack on Cheshire Police the defendant saw the result of a bomb hoax case, similar to that which he was convicted of, which resulted in a different sentence.

"That raised in him a sense of disquiet and he lashed out in the only way he realistically could," he said.

Sentencing Watts, the judge said: "This, I'm afraid, is a computer age and these offences are increasingly prevalent and they are capable at times of causing chaos."

He added: "The offences are comparatively easy to commit for anyone with the relevant expertise. The public is entitled to be protected from them."

Watts, who waved to his mother in the public gallery as he was sent down, was sentenced to 16 months in a young offenders institution.

A five-year restraining order was imposed which restricts his use of the internet unless he agrees to make devices available for inspection by police and does not delete internet history

Detective Sergeant Chris Maddocks, of the Cheshire Constabulary cyber crime unit, said: