Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Potentially ‘thousands’ of victims in huge child abuse probe

Thousands of new victims may be identified in the case of a Newry man at the centre of what has been described as the UK’s biggest “catfish” child abuse investigation.

Alexander McCartney (21), from Lissummon Road, is accused of blackmailing young victims across the world, with the investigation stretching to the United States and New Zealand.

“Catfishing” is a term used when online scammers use a fake identity or social network profile to contact victims and trick them into believing they are someone they can trust.  The scale of the global investigation into an alleged paedophile network was outlined in a preliminary hearing at Newry Magistrates Court on Wednesday last.

The court was told that the US authorities have requested the extradition of McCartney in relation to the distribution of indecent images of children.  The court also heard extradition is being considered because 23 people in the US allegedly bought indecent photographs of children from the accused.

Mr McCartney was arrested in July and subsequently charged with sexual activity with a child and intimidation to commit sexual activity with a child.

He is also accused of possessing, making and distributing indecent images of children.

The police investigation into his alleged crimes has become a “mammoth task” requiring the setting up of a “dedicated team” of PSNI detectives to specifically examine this case, due to the number of potential victims, the court heard.

It was revealed that 12 computer devices were seized from Mr McCartney, a computer science student, following his arrest.  The prosecution explained that these devices had the capacity to emulate other computers, giving the operator the ability to make contact with four times as many victims.

“Each emulator has 760 folders, and each of these folders identifies one victim,” a solicitor told the court.

“This is the biggest case in UK history and it will be even bigger now.  There are a significant number of new victims. There are thousands of new victims expected to be identified across the world.  There is a small sample being brought forward for prosecution, which is just the tip of the iceberg.”

The solicitor explained that McCartney’s strategy was to “blackmail young victims into abuse” before trying to get their younger siblings or cousins involved.

“The investigation is a mammoth task, which is based locally to as far as New Zealand.  The US authorities have now contacted the PSNI in order to extradite the defendant,” he added.

McCartney was not present in court but appeared via videolink from Maghaberry prison where his is being held since his arrest in July.  He faces sample charges on offences which are alleged to have taken place on dates between January 2018 to July 2019.

The prosecution told the judge that it will be January before all their material has been gathered for the indictment, adding that it did not expect to have identified all the victims at that stage.

District judge Eamonn King adjourned the case until next month and remanded Mr McCartney back into custody.