“Catfishing” – who is at risk?

The issue of “catfishing” came into the news recently when a 21 year old from Newry in Northern Ireland was charged with attempting to blackmail over 300 people in a “catfish” blackmail scam. Of the victims identified, 35 were in the UK showing the scope and scale of the offences and the complexities of investigating these crimes.  In addition to blackmail income, the perpetrator can sell images and in this case the court heard the accused earned £700 in three weeks selling images of children.

“Catfishing” is a scam where the victim is lured into a relationship online by someone who has created a fictional persona.  It is often used to create a relationship which will result in trolling activity but can also be used for financial gain.  The perpetrator uses their online persona to ingratiate themselves into the life of their victim and can then request financial help for some fictional issue or, having tricked their victim into forwarding sexually intimate pictures, they can blackmail that person by threatening to release the pictures to other friends or wider on the internet.

While the criminal aspects of fraud, extortion, blackmail and creating, receiving or distributing images are all obvious the risk to the wider community is not so clear.

Catfishing could be part of a bullying campaign in a school where some pupils trick a fellow pupil with a fake relationship.  Workmates could entice a colleague into some sort of online activity as part of a campaign against them.

If harm occurs to the pupil or to the employee there may well be serious implications for the school or the employer.  The ease of access to social media sites through school and employment WIFI mean that some thought may need to be given as to widening the scope of training and supervision.  Bullying was previously an activity easily monitored as it occurred only when the parties were in close proximity.  Now the bully or bullies can operate 24 hours a day from their desks or in corridors where they can watch the impact but also from their homes or anywhere else.

The definition of school bullying and workplace bullying may come under scrutiny in courts just as the scope of vicarious liability has been expanded over the years.  School Governors and Trustees and employers may face claims from victims or even from families if the victim takes their own life.  Insurers may also look at what cover they provide and consider chronological or geographical restrictions for work related bullying to limit it to activity within a specific workplace or during certain working hours.

Social media and the imminent arrival of a 5G network mean the risks are expanding at a rate the law and insurance cannot achieve.  This will inevitably create areas of confusion into which the criminal and court will have to stray.


Canavan_F-BLM7-web Written by Fintan Canavan, partner at BLM

Bob Higgins: Child Sex Abuse re-trials urged by Commissioner

Bob Higgins, former football coach, was sentenced to 24 years and three months imprisonment in June 2019 for abusing young players at Southampton FC and Peterborough United between 1971 and 1996.

He was previously acquitted of charges against six complainants in 1992. These six complainants were told that their allegations against Mr Higgins were ‘not serious’ enough for re-trial.

The recent conviction of Bob Higgins prompted the Victims’ Commissioner of England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, to propose a wider remit of child sexual abuse cases which could be eligible for a re-trial.

Continue reading

Abuse in athletics – a recent conviction

Philip Banning, a former Welsh national athletics coach has this week been jailed for seven and a half years, with his name put on the sex offenders register for life, for abusing four girls all under the age of 16, at Andover Athletic Club between 1976 and 1982.  Banning, who also represented Great Britain at the 1975 European Indoor Championships, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of indecent assault at Winchester Crown Court.  In sentencing, the judge commented that Banning had been ‘idolised’ by his victims and that he was responsible for a ‘grave abuse of trust’.

Continue reading

Interim Advocate for victims and survivors takes up post

Brendan McAllister was appointed Interim Advocate by David Sterling last month and has now taken up his post.

Mr McAllister will retain this post until a Statutory Commissioner has been appointed as directed under the HIAI report.  Mr McAllister said “I am honoured and humbled to have been appointed to this important role as a representative voice for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse…There is much work to be done and I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead but I am absolutely committed to being a strong, dedicated and supportive voice”.

Continue reading

IICSA – Accountability and Redress

IICSA has today invited core participant applications for the next phase of this investigation. Having heard from a variety of participants in connection with five case studies, a report for which is due shortly, consideration is now being made of phase 2. That phase will consider two questions:

  1. Whether the law of limitation should be reformed to make it easier for victims and survivors to bring claims in respect of non-recent child sexual abuse.
  2. The potential for a redress scheme to offer accountability and reparation to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

Any individual or organisation wishing to apply for core participant status should do so by 11 September.

These questions will have potentially far reaching implications for a wide range of organisations – from those who have had direct involvement with the care of children in the past or present and who have or may face claims for damages through to the insurers of those organisations.


jefferson_p_web Written by Paula Jefferson, partner and head of abuse and neglect at BLM

Jeffrey Epstein found dead in his prison cell

Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his prison cell in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center on Saturday (10 August 2019).

Some weeks prior, he had been found semi-conscious in his cell with injuries to his neck and had been placed on suicide watch. However, prison officials allegedly reported that Epstein had been taken off suicide watch prior to his death. The cause of his earlier injuries were never clarified by prison officials who claimed not to “share information on an inmate’s medical status or their conditions of confinement”.

Continue reading

NSPCC survey estimates as many as 200,000 11-17 years olds are groomed online

A recent NSPCC survey titled ‘Young People’s Experiences of Social Networking Sites’ has estimated that as many as 200,000 young people have been groomed on social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Twitch.

The study which used data from 11-17 year olds identified that 1 in 25 of those asked had been sent, received or been asked to send sexual content to an adult.

Continue reading