Man who ‘catfished’ almost 30 women in 'cruel' set of offences given eight years jail sentence

O'Shea appeared before Antrim Crown Court on Monday. Credit: UTV

A man who used more than half a dozen aliases to blackmail and ‘catfish’ almost 30 women in a “horrible and cruel” set of offences has been jailed for just over four years.

Philip O’Shea, 32, was sentenced to eight years and three months, serving the remaining half of his sentence on license.

Judge Roseanne McCormick KC paid tribute to the “courage and tenacity” of his victims, some of whom watched online their tormentor being jailed and some in person.

Having briefly outlined how O’Shea, harassed 28 women, blackmailing 11 victims and disclosing the private sexual images of 13 of his victims to their family, friends, work colleagues and even their children, the Antrim Crown Court said his “treatment of the victims caused them great distress.”

“He sought to humiliate and shame these women but they pushed back and they reported the offender and I acknowledge the courage of those 28 women for persisting with their complaint to the police,” said the judge.

On an mammoth indictment containing a total of 57 charges O’Shea, originally from the Republic but with an address at Bush Rise in Bushmills, entered guilty pleas to 13 charges of disclosing private sexual photographs or videos in order to cause distress, 11 counts of blackmail, 28 counts of harassment, three charges of making a threat to kill and two of threatening to damage property, all committed in various dates between 15 September 2020 and 2 February 2022.

Giving an overview of each victim’s ordeal during her 90 minute sentencing remarks Judge McCormick described that in a general sense, O’Shea contacted the various victims through social media, sometimes using his own name but more often than not, using several aliases.

Initially started as friendly conversations the online chats, messages and phone calls “rapidly became flirtatious” where O’Shea “persuaded the victims to send images to him and most did so readily,” said the judge.

She reminded herself that at the time, “the opportunity for companionship and human contact was constricted and disrupted” with the country in the grip of the Covid pandemic and resulting lock down rules so “friendship groups and familiar patterns had been disrupted.”

While the victim “never envisaged that their images would be shared by the defendant, he exploited those images by blackmailing for further images under threat of disclosure."

The harassment offence against the lone male victim on the indictment arose as a result of O’Shea disclosing images of his ex-wife when the creep “tried to take a rise out of him,” leaving the victim “upset and angry over what had occurred.”

Turning to to how the victims were affected, Judge McCormick said she had read each every one of the “powerful” victim impact statements and while she did not fully open them for the sake of privacy, she revealed that for all of them, there had been severe consequences.

Some had lost relationships with friends and family as a result of what O’Shea had done, some were in fear of their levies and for the safety of their families, others were “embarrassed to go back to work” and face colleagues and friends who had seen their intimate images.

Judge McCormick told the court that when the various complaints were made to police and O’Shea was arrested, evidence gleaned from his mobile phone pointed towards him as the perpetrator but she revealed one incident which illustrates the bravery and determination of his victims.

One of the victims was at a filling station in Enniskillen when she saw a man at the petrol pumps and recognising it was her blackmailer, she watched as he got in his car and followed him for a distance, noting his car registration number and reporting that to detectives.

Arrested and interviewed O’Shea, who moved to Bushmill in March 2020 at a time he was under DPP report in the Republic for similar offending, “made some admissions” in that he accepted ownership of the phone used to contact the victims but he “denied any personal role in the offending.”

The judge revealed that in the pre-sentence probation report, O’Shea claimed he was drunk during most of the exchanges and in the sober light of morning, he would “reflect on his behaviour” but clearly, any reflection “was not sufficient to stop the repeated behaviour.”

Reports also suggested that O’Shea had a “elevated sex drive” which he found frustrated by the lockdown rules and his alcohol intake resulted in him acting on negative impulses.

Judge McCormick said however “the court needs to focus on the victims” who were facing the same stresses and strains during lock down periods.

She told the court while O’Shea had admitted his guilt and spared the victims from having to testify, there were multiple aggravating factors including the number of victims, the pre meditation and planning of the “gratuitous” offending which spawned almost two years and the “particular cruelty of disposing private sexual images.”

“This was a way of controlling for his own sexual gratification,” said the judge adding that had it not been for O’Shea’s admissions he would have faced a sentence “in double figures.”

Highlighting how there is only guideline cases for paramilitary style blackmails, Judge McCormick said sextortion type cases were becoming more prevalent where victims can be “humiliated or embarrassed in perpetuity.”

Given that blackmail is an offence which “preys on the soul” of the victim, “this is a case where a deterrent sentence is required,” the judge declared.

Detective Chief Inspector David McBurney said: “The defendant had previously pleaded guilty to 57 offences, including harassment, disclosing private images, blackmail, threats to kill and threats to damage property.

“There were 29 female victims in total, right across Northern Ireland, targeted between September 2020 and February 2022. “O’Shea used social media, and different online fake identities, to message and befriend his victims.

“In many instances, having gained their trust, the women were coaxed into sending intimate images of themselves to O’Shea for his own sexual gratification He, in turn, demanded further images, using the threat that he would share those already received with victims’ friends, families or colleagues. On many occasions he did in fact send images to loved ones and places of work. And, on three occasions, he threatened to kill his victims if demands were not met. “It’s actually difficult to imagine the ordeal – the absolute humiliation, distress and fear – that so many innocent victims were subjected to. “I’m grateful to each and every individual who found the courage to speak up. Your support has been invaluable.” Detective Chief Inspector McBurney continued: “I’m keen to take the opportunity to encourage anyone else who may be the victim of online blackmail of a sexual nature to come forward. We’ll treat you with total sensitivity. And please be assured that if you are, or have been, a victim then you’re certainly not alone. “If you can, confide in a trusted friend or family member, and please contact officers immediately on 101.”

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