June 16th 2015
An Ulster teenager who took his own life was the victim of a Nigerian blackmail gang, his parents have revealed.
17 year-old Ronan Hughes’ parents Gerard and Teresa have said that the gang demanded £3,300 from their son, or else they would send naked images of him to all of his friends on social media. Speaking to the Irish News, they said that their son had posted the images after receiving photographs from who he believed was a girl.
He confided in them about a fake Facebook account three days before his death on June 5th, but committed suicide hours after learning that the blackmailers had carried out their threat.
Teresa Hughes said: "We want there to be changes so if a child out there is being bullied online they can go to the police or other authorities with their concerns. We don't want another family to go through what we've gone through."
She was referring to the family’s attempt to report the blackmail to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), when they were allegedly told by the sole officer on duty at Dungannon Police Station that there was little he could do as he was on his own that night, advising them to ignore the blackmail and return the following morning. They did so, but allege that no action resulted.
Detective Chief Superintendent Brian Hanna said: "Our enquiries are continuing into what will be a complex and protracted investigation, and we will keep the family informed of any progress as appropriate. The office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland is also best placed to deal with any complaints in relation to police actions."
Ronan’s parents want to raise awareness of how "naive" parents can be in relation to social media. Gerard Hughes told the Irish News: "There's no point in a parent taking a phone off a child when they don't know what they're doing themselves or how to access the technology themselves. My13-year-old knows more than I do and it's not right. We just don't want this tragedy to happen to anyone else."
New internet safety advice has subsequently been supplied by the PSNI and circulated by the Department of Education's pupil support team.