Man jailed for more than seven years after stalking and blackmailing woman
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A man who created multiple fake social media accounts to stalk and blackmail a woman has been jailed for more than seven years.
Rhys Hardman, of Weates Close, Widnes, was jailed for seven years and eight months at Liverpool Crown Court on Friday 10 November.
The 23-year-old previously pleaded guilty to blackmail, perverting the course of justice, two counts of disclosing private sexual images, two counts of stalking, and impersonating a police constable.
In 2018, Hardman became friends with the victim and subsequently told her about his female ex-partner. However, Hardman created this fake persona to hide behind, using it to stalk and blackmail the victim online.
Posing as the ‘ex-partner’ and taking advantage of his knowledge of the victim’s difficult financial situation, Hardman persuaded her to send indecent images of herself in exchange for £1,500. No money was ever received. The victim also received various messages and friend requests from people claiming to be linked to Hardman.
In October 2021, the victim withdrew from her friendship with Hardman. At this time, unwanted contact continued online from Hardman posing as his ex-partner. As a result, the victim first reported ‘her’ for harassment in November 2021.
Between 27 December 2021 and 25 January 2022, the victim received a further 37 friend requests on social media but, believing them to be Hardman, she blocked most of the requests, only responding to some to ask them to leave her alone. The messages included multiple threats, including to leak the private images. As a result of threats and believing they would be carried out if she didn’t comply, she sent a further private photograph.
The victim’s photographs and personal details such as her address were also disclosed to strangers online.
As part of Hardman’s deceit, he told the victim that he too was receiving messages from his ‘ex-partner’ and other accounts. The victim contacted police about the harassment, and Hardman himself also made a complaint to try and avoid detection and told police his ex-partner would be difficult to trace.
Various enquiries were completed by officers, who were unable to identify the ex-partner and due to inconsistencies, Hardman became a suspect.
Telecoms enquiries against the 49 online accounts used to harass the victim resulted in links to Hardman for 21 of the accounts through the IP address at his home address.
On 27 January 2023, Hardman contacted police telling them he was guilty of harassment and stalking. He made further admissions on 31 January during a call with an officer to arrange a voluntary interview.
In interview on 2 February, Hardman admitted to having created a fake ex-partner to harass the victim. He also admitted to sharing the private images of the victim on Facebook, as well as lying to police and providing a false statement.
Despite this, on 21 July, Hardman attended the victim’s home address, dressed as a police officer. The victim was not at home, but he spoke to her father and stated he needed to speak to her and asked for her phone number. Believing Hardman to be a police officer, he gave him the number.
On the same day, the victim received two phone calls from Hardman but immediately recognised his voice and terminated the calls. She also received an Instagram message from him.
Hardman was arrested on 21 July and was subsequently charged with further offences and remanded into custody on 27 July.
On top of his custodial sentence, Hardman was made subject to an indefinite criminal behaviour order.
Following his sentence, PC Meg Aspinall said:
“I welcome the sentence handed to Hardman, who put his victim through years of torment. He pretended to be her friend yet went to extreme lengths to stalk and blackmail her, creating multiple online accounts and sending various threats.
“Hardman was obsessed with his victim. He went to great lengths to contact her, and even after admitting his offences he continued to offend, posing as a police officer in order to get her personal details.
“His offending understandably left the victim shaken and distressed, but thanks to her bravery in coming forward and the strength she has shown throughout this investigation, he has now been held accountable for his actions and is facing a lengthy spell behind bars.”
The Harm Reduction Unit is a specialist risk management service delivered by Cheshire Constabulary in conjunction with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Probation Service.
It now takes primacy for the most serious and complex stalking investigations thanks to additional funding secured by the Police and Crime Commissioner this year.
Detective Sergeant David Thomason added:
"Specialist Victims’ Advocates in the Harm Reduction Unit provide practical support, safety planning and advocacy.
“They continue to show how vital their role is in helping to keep victims safe, informed and empowered. In this case, our advocates have liaised with all the relevant agencies, including police, to ensure the victim is at the centre of this investigation and subsequent prosecution.
"Hopefully this outcome will give others going through a similar ordeal the confidence to come forward and get the support and advice they need to end their nightmare.”