A man who used more than half a dozen aliases to blackmail almost 30 women in a “horrible and cruel” set of offences was given a jail sentence of eight years and three months on Monday.
Ordering 32-year-old Philip O’Shea to serve half his sentence in jail and half under supervised licence conditions, Judge Roseanne McCormick KC paid tribute to the “courage and tenacity” of his victims.
Having briefly outlined in Antrim Crown Court how O’Shea had harassed 28 women, blackmailing 11 victims and disclosing the private sexual images of 13 of his victims to their families, friends, work colleagues and even their children, the judge 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 indictment containing 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 on various dates between September 15th, 2020, and February 2nd, 2022
Giving an overview of each victim’s ordeal during her 90-minute sentencing remarks, the judge 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 lockdown rules so “friendship groups and familiar patterns had been disrupted”.
While the victims “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 judge outlined that during his multiple campaigns of blackmail and harassment O’Shea told one victim there would be a “beautiful surprise” of petrol bombs at her home and to “stay away from the windows”; threatened to kill a victim’s daughter and “her daughter’s unborn baby;” and one victim was threatened that “your son will die first”. He also carried through with his threats of sharing explicit intimate images and screen shots of sexual chats with victims’ parents, their children, their workplaces, ex-partners and friends and stalked one of the victims, sending her pictures of her front door and of her putting rubbish in the bin, using the images to increase the fear and domination he was exerting over her.
The judge said she had read all 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 lives 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.
The judge 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.
Also, 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 said that in the pre-sentence probation report O’Shea had claimed he had been 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”.
Highlighting how there were only guideline cases for paramilitary-style blackmail, the judge said sextortion-type cases were becoming more prevalent where victims could 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 added.