Belfast social media influencer Sophie Stephens spared jail over sextortion blackmail
A self-styled social media influencer who threatened to expose online sexual activity she had with a male to his friends, family and colleagues was spared jail on Friday.
Sophie Stephens was issued with a combination order consisting of 100 hours community service and two years’ probation - but was warned if she breached the Order she would go prison.
From Donegall Place in Belfast, the unemployed 22-year-old admitted a single charge of blackmail committed on 26 July 2021 and was sentenced by Judge Patrick McGurgan.
Belfast Crown Court heard on that date, police received a report from the injured party, who said he had been communicating with Stephens for around a month.
He told police communication between them had started on Instagram then onto Snapchat, and that the conversations quickly turned sexual.
The injured party paid Stephens £40 for videos of her before it was suggested they meet face to face. Stephens told the man she would turn up for £70 and he transferred the money via an app.
Once she received the money transfer, Stephens then threatened him and told him that unless he gave her £200, she would release details of their sexual conversations to his friends, family and colleagues.
The man was so terrified by this threat that he contacted the PSNI.
Stephens was arrested and during police interviews, she initially claimed her social media accounts had been hacked.
However, she later admitted sending demands for money and threats to the injured party and said she wanted to scare him as she thought he'd been sharing explicit videos of her - but said she would never have carried out the threat.
She also told police she was an Instagram influencer with 20,000 followers who had followed her weight-loss journey.
Branding blackmail as a "serious offence", Judge McGurgan said: "Whilst I acknowledge there is no Victim Impact Statement, I am of the view this matter would obviously have caused the injured party considerable stress and anxiety - and indeed he told the police he was terrified by the threat."
The Judge said he had taken into consideration defence submissions which set out Stephens’ background of an unsettled life, sporadic work and depression, as well as voluntary work with the Red Cross.
He also revealed Stephens has claimed to have deleted all her social media accounts and "is no longer engaged in this activity."
Noting Probation's assessment that Stephens presented a low likelihood of re-offending, that the offending was not persistent and that she had pleaded guilty from the outset, Judge McGurgan imposed the combination order.
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