Man who persuaded teenagers to send photos jailed

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A man who persuaded two teenage girls to send him revealing photographs of themselves has been jailed for four years.

Anthony Cullinane, 35, of Willow Park in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, pleaded guilty in the Criminal Circuit Court to two counts of child sexual exploitation, two counts of producing child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.

The court heard he had separately met two teenagers – one in Canada and one in Ireland – on the internet and posed as a teenager, using fake profile pictures, and persuaded them to send him photos of themselves bare or topless.

One of the victims said she was “mentally destroyed” by what happened and it had a severe impact on her family.

Judge Eugene O’Kelly described the behavior of Cullinane – who appeared in court via video link from Midlands Jail – as “sinister”.

Garda Detective Adrian Cooke said the incidents involving the Canadian girl came to light in 2015 when reports were made to Ontario police, who then implicated the gardaí.

In March of that year, a girl who was 16 at the time started chatting online with someone who went by the fake name Anthony Hall and said he was 13.

She was volunteering at the time for a website that offered help and support to troubled teens, and he said he was being abused and wanted help. He used a profile picture of an Australian boy he found on the internet.

She continued to engage with this person, and after a while he began to “cajole her and persuade her” to show her a picture with her breasts exposed.

He repeated this on later dates and told her that his mother had sent him a photograph of his penis.

The girl got worried and tried to comfort the person and he sent her a picture of an erect penis which he downloaded from the internet.

On the night of March 24, he told her he was going to take an overdose of pills and she begged him not to and tried to comfort him again.

He said to her “lift your condom please, that’s all please” and asked her to help him.

On March 26, he spoke again about taking an overdose of tablets and said he had “chickened down” on the previous occasion, but worse things had happened to him since then. The girl said to him “I’m sorry I let you down” and the conversation continued, and finally she sent him two pictures of herself, one showing her breasts and the other of a mirror showing herself bare back.

The next day he asked her to go on the webcam and lift her top and said he had found his mother on the internet and would send the pictures to his mother and friends.

The girl was upset and said she thought he deleted the photos and called him a liar. He said again that he would send the pictures to his mother if she didn’t pull up her top.

At the end of the exchange, he apologized and told her he would delete the photos.

The girl informed her mother of what was happening and a report was made to the police in Ontario, Canada, who reported it to An Garda Síochána following investigations. After further investigation, Anthony Cullinane became “a person of interest”, the court heard, and his home was searched under the foot of a warrant. A laptop, desktop computer and phone were seized and various relevant Skype accounts were discovered.

As a result, a second victim was identified. This girl, who was 14 at the time, had befriended a person she thought was called Paul Sweeney, who said he was 15, on the internet after he sent her a request for friend on Facebook.

Their exchanges moved on Skype and he persuaded her to send him photos of her naked and he threatened her. On one occasion, she received a photograph of a naked man, not showing the face.

He said he wanted to see her naked in her bathroom and, if she didn’t obey, he would put the pictures on Facebook.

He told her he was her boyfriend and there was a reference to a planned meeting, which did not materialize.

Later he said to her, “Do you want to prove your love to me please lift your top”. He said again that he wanted to see her and later she told him that the pictures she sent him weren’t of her, but of her cousin, and he said that in that case , she wouldn’t mind if they were downloaded from the Internet. .

He asked her to show him her nipples and also asked her to show him her vagina and in another exchange asked her to take off her bra and underwear.

A photograph of this topless girl was found on the hard drive of Mr. Cullinane’s computer.

He was arrested on May 27, 2015 and confessed to owning the computer equipment seized, but not the internet accounts.

Anthony Cullinane has already been convicted under the Copyright Act for making counterfeit DVDs.

A victim impact statement on behalf of the second person was read out in court and told she was “mentally destroyed” by what happened. She suffered from depression and anxiety and was afraid to go anywhere in case she encountered the accused. It had a serious impact on her family, she said, and broke the family. “I’m totally destroyed and feel like I can’t even go out and find a job because I need someone with me at all times.”

Aidan Doyle SC, for the defendant, said his client had a difficult upbringing and left school at the age of 14. He accepted in a probation report that there was a “significant amount of planning” involved in what he did and that it was “sexual gratification” but that this sexual attraction to children was now historic.

He had been involved in a relationship with a woman in England for several years and she had written a letter to the court.

Judge O’Kelly asked how old this woman was at the start of this relationship, and was told she was 16 and believed the age of consent in the UK was 16.

The judge said there were a number of aggravating factors in the case including the age difference between the defendant and his victims, the premeditation involved which was exemplified by his adopting different false identities in line, his “sinister” abuse of the website used to support teenagers, and moving engagements with his victims to Skype in order to obtain footage.

He noted letters of apology written in court by Mr. Cullinane in which he expressed remorse and acknowledged the pain and suffering caused to the victims.

The appropriate sentence for child exploitation offenses was seven years, Judge O’Kelly said, which was reduced by mitigating factors to five years. He suspended the final year of that sentence, four years, to run concurrently with three-year sentences for production of child pornography and nine months for possession of child pornography.

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