Loner posed as Love/Hate stars on Facebook to demand naked pictures from girl (14)
Judge criticised social media giant’s identity verification system
March 12 2021 05:15 PM
A man who used fake Facebook accounts in the name of Love/Hate actors to induce a 14-year-old to share naked images of herself has been given a suspended four-year sentence.
Mark Byrne (30) targeted an impressionable young teen with his “predatory behaviour” over a period of eight months when he pretended to be Love/Hate stars Killian Scott and Robert Sheehan six years ago, Judge Pauline Codd said.
Byrne made her believe she would get to meet the famous actors and perhaps get a role in the series when he persuaded and then pressured her into sending him a number of naked images of herself, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard.
Byrne then threatened to post naked images of the girl to her Facebook account if she didn’t send him more photos.
Judge Codd noted that if Facebook had a proper identification verification system in place, then the offence could have been prevented in the first place.
“This offence was facilitated partly because of the fact that the accused could set up a fake identity without it being verified by Facebook,” she said.
Byrne, of Kilmore Close, Coolock, Dublin, pleaded guilty to one count of child exploitation between October 2013 and June 2014. He was then aged between 22 and 23.
The court heard that the victim, who at the time was obsessed with the Love/Hate TV show, got a private Facebook message from a fake account using Mr Scott’s name. She believed she was communicating with the actor.
Using the fake account, Byrne asked the girl to send him a “full body” image so that he could see what size she was and get her a part on the TV show. She sent a fully clothed image and they continued to chat every night.
The court heard Byrne then told the girl he was feeling depressed and was going to kill himself unless she sent him a naked photo of herself, which she did.
Byrne went on to pester the girl for more naked images. He threatened to share the explicit images he already had on Facebook and tag her name in them if she didn’t send him more photos.
The victim began doubting the account was the real Killian Scott and she became afraid because her location could be seen from the images she had already sent. She continued to send him naked images because she was afraid he would carry out his threats to share her images.
At one point, the girl blocked the account but began receiving similar messages from a Robert Sheehan account. Byrne also sent the child images of an erect penis and told her it was his.
The offending came to light when the child’s mother noticed sexually explicit private messages on her Facebook account and contacted gardaí. Officers took over the account and a warrant was issued for Byrne’s arrest.
When arrested, Byrne admitted carrying out the offence. He told gardaí he never intended to share the girl’s images online and he said the penis image he sent her was a generic internet image and not his penis.
Judge Codd said this case “highlights the pernicious uses to which social media can be put”. She said that if Facebook and other social media platforms would not take steps to prevent it happening, then “the courts must deter those who seek to exploit that”.
In relation to Byrne, she noted that he was a “depressed and isolated young man” at the time of the offence. The court heard Byrne had dropped out of school and spent most of his time alone in his bedroom. He was unemployed at the time.
There was significant evidence before the court that although he was in his early 20s at the time, he displayed a “lack of maturity”.
Byrne has no previous convictions and has not come before the courts since. He returned to education and is now a qualified chef.
He has engaged with a sex offender programme and gained some insight into his offending, although more work is required, the judge noted.
The judge handed down a four-year sentence but suspended it on a number of conditions, including that Byrne engage in a sex offender treatment programme and remain under the supervision of the Probation Service for four years.
“I think that will meet society’s requirements in terms of public safety, going forward,” the judge said. She added that had Byrne been an older man at the time of the offence, she would have imposed a custodial sentence.