A stalker who tortured his victim with blackmail and revenge porn threats disguised himself as a police officer in order to gain entry to her house.
Rhys Hardman, of Weats Close, Widnes, bombarded the woman with messages and phone calls after becoming wildly obsessed with her. He created a fake social media profile purporting to be an ex-girlfriend, called Jessica, and tricked the woman into being in contact with him.
His conversations took a sinister turn as he began to pester her for naked pictures – which he in turn used to try to blackmail her, spreading them around social media and setting up a fake Facebook page in her name, claiming she was going to join OnlyFans, a subscription-based website.
Hardman, 23, pleaded guilty to two counts of stalking, blackmail, disclosing private sexual photographs with intent to cause distress, and perverting the course of justice. He was jailed for seven years and eight months.
In total, Hardman concocted 21 fake profiles in order to harass the woman. He also made a false police report claiming to be a victim of online harassment himself, providing images of messages from fake Snapchat accounts which were in fact made by him.
In January 2023 he called police and admitted what he had done. But on July 21, four days before he was due to appear in court, he turned up at the woman's home in a fake police uniform and convinced her father to hand over her new contact details.
Prosecutor Ben Jones, told Liverpool Crown Court, said: "He was wearing a fake police uniform sufficiently convincing to persuade the woman’s father to speak to the defendant. The woman wasn’t present. He identified himself as a “PC Hill” and claimed that he needed to speak to the woman about the upcoming court case.
"He was invited in and said that the case was going to be postponed as Rhys had gone missing. He asked a number of questions about the woman’s mental health, her relationship with Rhys and whether she was in a new relationship.
"The woman returned home at 10pm and was overheard by her parents screaming when she received a call from someone she immediately identified as the defendant although he was continuing to pretend that he was PC Hill."
After repeatedly calling the woman and trying to contact her on Instagram, he jumped into the water at Runcorn Bridge. He was rescued and taken to Aintree Hospital in a critical condition where it was found he had lost his sight in one eye as a result.
The court heard how the fake Jessica had begun to repeatedly ask the woman for sexual images in return for £1,500. The woman was initially reluctant and “Jessica” offered more and more money. The woman describes being desperate for money. She eventually gave in and sent a number, about 21, of semi-naked images with her face not shown. When she asked for the payment “Jessica” immediately replied that she could not pay as she now needed to fund her grandfather’s funeral.
The court heard further requests for payment were rebuffed and the defendant then began contacting the woman, now posing as his own mother, and suggesting he had taken his own life.
Mr Jones said: "The woman received further communications from different numbers offering condolences on Rhys’s passing. Some set out personal details of her life…that the defendant can probably only have got by actively following her. At this stage the woman was getting as many as 30-40 no caller ID calls a day and had to change her mobile phone number."
On Christmas Eve 2022, Hardman appeared at the woman's workplace with presents, forcing her to flee through a back door and get a lift home. He returned on New Year's Eve and she told him to stop following her. But he showed up again, and the woman eventually quit her job in order to avoid him.
At the same time, she was bombarded with Snapchat messages threatening to share her nude pictures and attempting to blackmail her into sending more.
Mr Jones said: "She was again contacted first by the defendant in his own identity, then shortly after by a username linked to “Jessica”, again threatening to release the images to the woman’s friends…and again asking for more images. The woman sought proof that the previous images had been deleted. When it was clear that the previous images had not been deleted, she refused to send more. The defendant (as “Jessica”) responded that he would get the woman “jumped".
Hardman was interviewed by police in February 2022, and denied the offences. But in January 2023 he called them and confessed, saying: “I’m f***ed either way. I've wasted your time. What I've done is wrong so I should be punished for that."
Six months later, he carried out his final act of disguising himself as a police officer to gain access to her house.
Carmel Wilde, defending, said: "He doesn't feel good about what he has done. He's mortified by the shame he has brought on his family. He hates himself. He accepts he deserves prison. He even says he can't look himself in the mirror. He knows he will be punished, as he should be."
She said Hardman, who has no previous convictions, had a history of self-harm and suicidal behaviour and had anxiety, depression, and autism. She said he was suffering from drug addiction at the time of the offences but had been drug-free since being taken into custody.
Sentencing Hardman Judge David Potter said: "You became obsessed and fixated with your victim."
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