Castledawson woman in court over ‘online dating trap’

The High Court building in Belfast. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
The High Court building in Belfast. Photo: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A businessman allegedly tricked into sending compromising pictures of himself was told his family life would be ruined if he did not pay blackmail money, the High Court heard today.

The victim faced demands for up to £12,000 in cash over photos and texts which formed part of a suspected online dating trap, prosecutors claimed.

He was told the pictures would be sent to his wife if he did not pay up.

Details emerged as a man and woman accused of being part of the plot were granted bail.

Margaret Bowman, 34, of Riverside South, Castledawson, Co Derry, and Philip McClelland, 24, from Sunderland Road, Belfast, are both charged with making demands for cash payments with menaces.

The alleged offences took place over a two-week period last month during which a police surveillance operation was put in place.

The court heard how the Coleraine-based businessman, identified only as Witness A, made contact with someone using the name Sarah on an internet dating site.

He arranged a meeting at a Belfast hotel and took compromising photos of himself on arrival.

According to the prosecution these were sent to a mobile phone he believed to belong to his contact.

But it was claimed that the demands for cash then began to be made.

Witness A was told he had to pay £1,000 or else texts and photos he sent to “Sarah” would be disclosed to his wife.

Prosecution barrister Kate McKay said he left the hotel and lifted £500 from a bank machine.

She alleged that more money was demanded at meetings with men in Belfast and just outside Ballymena.

At one stage the businessman was told he would have to come up with £1,000 a month for 12 months, the court heard.

This was then reduced to a one-off request for £5,000, with Mrs McKay adding: “Further demands for money were made or he would be exposed to his wife, ruining his family life.”

Bowman is allegedly linked to the plot through telephone evidence.

Neither her nor McClelland made any comment during police interviews, the court heard.

Mrs McKay said: “Obviously blackmail is a very serious matter, but this is not the usual paramilitary type.”

Bail was granted to both accused on condition that they keep out of Coleraine, do not use the internet, and have no contact with the alleged victim.

Mr Justice Burgess also warned: “I assume there hasn’t been any disclosure to (his) family.

“If there ever is there will be big trouble, either directly or indirectly.”