A man who created hundreds of fake social media profiles in order to stalk and harass people online has been jailed.
Matthew Hardy appeared at Chester Crown Court today, Wednesday 26 January, where he sentenced to nine years in prison.
Hardy was told that he will serve a minimum of four-and-a-half years behind bars.
The 30-year-old of Forest Place, Northwich, had earlier pleaded guilty to three counts of stalking with intent to cause alarm or distress, two counts of stalking without intent to cause alarm and breaching a restraining order from 2013, which banned him from using false details on social networking sites.
He also admitted stalking a further four women, which were taken into consideration upon sentencing.
The court heard how Hardy created fake profiles on social media in order to befriend men and women across the UK – sometimes even posing as friends and family members in order to gather information about them that would cause embarrassment.
After gaining the trust of his victims, he would send them messages that he knew were a lie in order create rifts amongst their family – causing his victims upset and distress.
Following the sentencing, Police Constable Kevin Anderson from Northwich Local Policing Unit, said: “Having led on this case for more than 18 months I have seen the emotional distress and turmoil that Hardy has inflicted on his victims – he did all of this while hiding behind his computer screen.
“The impact on those affected by his actions has been immense, causing some of them to change some of their daily habits, and live in constant fear that they were being watched.
“On other occasions, it caused them to lose trust in their friends and family members, and even led to the breakdown of long-term relationships.
“Thankfully, Hardy has now been held accountable for his actions, and his online activity has finally been brought to a stop. I hope that the conclusion of this case will provide some closure for his victims and enable then to rebuild and move forward with their lives.”
Sergeant Andy Cooper, of Northwich Local Policing Unit, added: “This has been an extremely complex case involving a number of victims across the UK.
“Hardy was relentlessand thought that he had covered his tracks. He created hundreds of fake accounts in order to gain the trust of his victims and he manipulated them into believing the lies that he was feeding them.
“Thankfully, as a result of the dedication and diligence shown by PC Anderson, we were able to gather the evidence required to ensure that Hardy was finally held accountable for his actions.
“PC Anderson went above and beyond his role in order to achieve justice for Hardy’s victims and I would like to thank him for his professionalism and focus throughout this investigation.”
Cheshire Constabulary now has a number of Specialist Victim Advocates who work within the force’s Harm Reduction Unit and can provide victims of stalking practical support, safety planning and advocacy where required.
Detective Superintendent Louise Cherrington, force lead for stalking, said: “Stalking can come in many forms and in cases such as this many people may not realise that they have been a victim.
“However, the emotional distress that this type of crime can cause cannot be underestimated and I hope that the conclusion of this case will give other victims the confidence to come forward – you will be listened to and we will do all that we can to ensure that action is taken.”
Anyone who believes they have been a victim should contact police on 101, or in an emergency call 999.