Student who hacked into student’s emails and posted intimate photos of her online escapes custody

 

William Wooles, aged 20, was a student at Leeds University. He hacked into a 20 years old student’s emails – she was a student in Manchester. He sent her an email saying he had found some ‘interesting’ things and wanted to see more intimate images. Wooles was referring to private images which had been sent to her then boyfriend and were still in her ‘sent items’ box.

Wooles did not know his victim. He subsequently emailed her threatening to publish the images online unless she sent him some intimate images.

A third email from Wooles said: “Sorry, this could have been avoided if you just sent me what I asked for?”

Unfortunately, the emails on the victim’s account had been filtered as spam and so she didnt see them until it was too late.

When she logged onto her Facebook profile, she saw that a number of the pictures she had previous sent to her former boyfriend had been posted to her profile page.

Her Facebook account had more than 1,000 friends.

Wooles had also targeted another woman.

A news story detailing the offences can be seen here.

Blackmail and computer misuse

Wooles pleaded to blackmail (x2) and computer misuse (x2).

Blackmail

Maximum sentence: 14 years

Theft Act 1968 s 21

(1) A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making it does so in the belief—

(a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the demand; and

(b) that the use of the menaces is a proper means of reinforcing the demand.

Courts take a dim view of blackmail: ‘Blackmail is one of the ugliest and most vicious crimes in the calendar of criminal offences’ R v Hadjou 1989 11 Cr App R (S) 29.

Computer misuse

There are a couple of offences which could have been charged. The offence is likely to be:

Computer Misuse Act 1990 s 2

Maximum sentence: 5 years

(1) A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he commits an offence under section 1 above (“the unauthorised access offence”) with intent—

(a) to commit an offence to which this section applies; or

(b) to facilitate the commission of such an offence (whether by himself or by any other person),

and the offence he intends to commit or facilitate is referred to below in this section as the further offence.

Sentence

He received a 12 month custodial sentence, suspended for 12 months. If Wooles commits an offence during the currency of the suspended sentence, he could be resentenced for the original offences, or could the suspended sentence could be ordered to take effect.

Additionally, he was ordered to complete 150 hours of unpaid work and given a restraining order with a term not to contact the victims.

A forfeiture order was also made for his latop.

Comment

A non-custodial sentence appears sensible; the shock and humiliation of the publicity and the court appearance may prove sufficient to correct Woole’s behaviour. Additionally 150 hours of unpaid work mean that rather than draining the (already bare) public purse sat in detention, he can be contributing something to society at a fraction of the cost.

The restraining order would appear proportionate and fair on the basis of the harm caused to the victims to date. We will post something more detailed on restraining order shortly.

The forfeiture order may seem a somewhat unnecessary punishment. So what is the position? Well, the court certainly had the power to impose an order:

Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 s 143

(1) Where a person is convicted of an offence and the court by or before which he is convicted is satisfied that any property which has been lawfully seized from him, or which was in his possession or under his control at the time when he was apprehended for the offence or when a summons in respect of it was issued—

(a) has been used for the purpose of committing, or facilitating the commission of, any offence, or

(b) was intended by him to be used for that purpose,

the court may (subject to subsection (5) below) make an order under this section in respect of that property.

Regard must be had to the value of the property and the financial effect on the defendant. It appears unlikely that this case would be in contravention of such a consideration. We dont know whether the student has been excluded from the university, however if he needs a computer to continue his studies, and is not in a position to by a new one (remember no fine was imposed upon him, so he may not have the means) a deprivation order may  inflict undue hardship upon him.

The order has two purposes, one is to remove from public circulation the item used to commit or facilitate an offence. The second is as a punishment.

If the order would be ‘over doing the punishment’, the order would be inappropriate and should not be made. It is arguable that this applies to the laptop, however on balance, the order is probably proportionate.

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2 thoughts on “Student who hacked into student’s emails and posted intimate photos of her online escapes custody

  1. Sisterhood (@sisterhooduk)

    Stealing a 20 year old girl’s intimate pictures from her laptop and posting them for the whole world to see he should have gone down for this not a suspended sentence and I hope he’s on the sex offenders register too.

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    Sisterhood, this time I am with you; I would have made the sentence or at least part of it immediate – perhaps six months immediate rather than 12 suspended.

    I’m worried that when you and I agree we must both be wrong -:)

    I don’t think this is a case where the SOR is available; perhaps it should be but that is another issue.

    And I think forfeiting the laptop was (just) disproportionate if there was to be a suspended sentence. It’s rather like those SOPO cases in which the CA has said that blanket exclusion from using the internet is inappropriate because it is a staple of ordinary life, just like you could not ban someone from using the post just because s/he had used it for an illegal purpose.

    Reply

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