Global pop star blackmailed with 'highly sensitive' photographs
A global pop star was left feeling "vulnerable and isolated" after a blackmailer tried to extort thousands of pounds from her in exchange for "highly sensitive" photographs that were stolen from her home.
The “instantly recognisable” celebrity received a series of threatening letters from the blackmailer demanding cash in exchange for 27 images stored on one of two Apple Mac laptops which were taken in a burglary at her London home.
The musician, who cannot be named for legal reasons, would have suffered enormous personal distress and humiliation if the photographs had been made public, a court heard.
She has taken out a court order banning the media from disclosing her name, age, nationality and whether she is in a relationship or has children. The exact nature of what appeared in the photographs has not been disclosed.
Sebastian Bennett, 24, was convicted of blackmail and handling stolen goods at Isleworth Crown Court on Monday following an investigation by Scotland Yard.
The unemployed fitness fanatic called himself Dave64 and Dave Smith during his blackmail campaign against the celebrity.
The ordeal began last November when the pop star lost her house keys, possibly during a trip to the local hairdresser’s salon.
Late that night, a man entered her house and prowled around while she and a relative slept alone in separate rooms.
They were alerted to the break-in when the relative was awoken by a torch beam, but the burglar had fled the scene by the time police arrived.
The celebrity thought she had got off relatively lightly when it became clear that the only valuables stolen were two laptops and a set of car keys.
But six weeks later hand-delivered letters and emails began to arrive, in which the blackmailer said that he had found the “sensitive” photographs and intended to sell them to the media.
He claimed that the digital photographs were worth £2,000 each - a total of £54,000 - and offered to sell them to the celebrity for a “knock-down” price of £20,000 to prevent them surfacing in the press.
The celebrity’s solicitors, Harbottle and Lewis, contacted the police and arranged for a female officer to meet Bennett in Kilburn, north west London posing as a lawyer.
A team of undercover officers watched as a black man in a hooded top, thought to be Bennett, walked past the “lawyer”, leaving a computer memory stick on a wall.
An officer took the memory stick, confirmed it contained photos of the celebrity and returned it to the wall.
A team of surveillance officers followed Bennett on foot for more than a mile to his studio flat in North Kensington, where officers found an array of damning evidence and he was arrested.
A copy of the blackmail letter delivered to the celebrity the previous day lay on a coffee table along with a scrap of paper with the phone number of 'Dave64'.
The car keys stolen in the original burglary were found hidden in a box of washing powder and a computer containing copies of the stolen photographs was discovered.
But Bennett said the incriminating items must belong to one of a number of friends who regularly visited his home, but whose full names, addresses and telephone numbers he did not know.
The jury cleared him of burglary but convicted him of blackmail, which carries a maximum jail term of 14 years, and handling stolen goods. He will be sentenced on Friday.