A man from London who manipulated and blackmailed young girls into sending indecent photos and videos of themselves by posing as a model agency scout has pleaded guilty to 50 offences.
National Crime Agency officers identified Ishmael Duncan, 24, as the person behind Snapchat accounts which were used to coerce and threaten children into sending explicit images of themselves.
A report had been sent to the NCA via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), following two sisters in the US reporting being threatened after sending explicit images to one of the accounts.
Analysis of IP data relating to the fake Snapchat profiles showed that the accounts resolved to multiple locations, but the NCA was able to establish that Duncan was linked to all of them.
Duncan was arrested in July 2021 at his home in Lambeth, and a number of devices were seized. Material recovered from these and cloud storage included chat logs from the various Snapchat accounts Duncan used and indecent images he had extorted from children.
The case against him comprised 28 female victims, some as young as nine, from the UK, US, Canada and Australia. However, investigators believe he contacted close to 10,000 children online from these accounts.
He would begin by approaching potential victims to ask if they were interested in becoming a model for well-known fashion brands. Those that responded would be asked for their age and personal details before he requested clothed images or videos. He then took them through a lengthy interview process to build their trust, and sent them legitimate looking contracts which featured the impersonated brand’s logo.
He would request topless photos on the pretext of assessing the victims’ body shape, and to use as a base for editing in potential clothes to be modelled. Girls who challenged this were told the original photos would be deleted after editing, with some threatened with being ‘blacklisted’ from modelling if they didn’t comply.
Duncan contacted victims from multiple accounts and adopted different personas within the model agency to give a sense of authenticity, including ‘Callum’ (the photographer) and ‘Mark’ (the general manager of the preteen models division).
He then created another account to contact the same victims, sometimes many months later, threatening to expose and share their photos unless they complied with his demands for more images.
Part of this process was to send the following text: “This is an automated message. We have your nudes, and unless you reply to this message saying “I understand", they will be sent out to expose accounts on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. If you reply with anything else other than “I understand”, or if you block or unfriend this account, your nudes will be sent out. This is your first and only warning.”
Separate to his modelling approach, he targeted other potential victims claiming to be a child of a similar age, requesting sexual images and videos. He blackmailed a 14-year-old girl with learning difficulties who sent him images, and also offered her $1,000 to engage in a sexual act with her brother.
In total, officers recovered 19,120 indecent images of children in categories A-C (A being the most severe) from his devices and cloud storage.
Duncan was charged with 53 counts including causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity (penetrative and non-penetrative), blackmail, sexual communication with a child, indecent and prohibited images of children (making and possession) and possession of extreme pornographic images.
He appeared at Inner London Crown Court on 21 August this year, where he admitted to 42 of the counts. Yesterday (14 September) he admitted to a further eight counts. Two counts of attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and one count of blackmail will lie on file.
Duncan is due to be sentenced at the same court on 1 December.
NCA Operations Manager Martin Ludlow said: “Ishmael Duncan cruelly preyed on young girls who had dreams of becoming models.
“The threatening messages he sent were chilling and showed his callous disregard for the victims he exploited for his own sexual gratification in this case.
“The NCA worked closely with overseas partners to identify and safeguard victims, a number of whom provided evidence against Duncan.
“We will continue to operate online and internationally to target those offenders who pose the most serious risk to children.”
Jeanette Smith, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS, said: “Ishmael Duncan made a number of different accounts with false personas, for the predatory purpose of targeting children online and obtaining sexual images of them for his own gratification.
“Using fake profiles, often posing as a modelling agent or a teenage boy, Duncan was able to manipulate children into sending indecent images of themselves. He would then go on to threaten and blackmail his victims to comply with his sick demands for more explicit material.
“This conviction sends a clear message that the CPS, working alongside the NCA and international partners, will work to bring justice to those who sexually abuse and exploit children, wherever that abuse takes place.
“The CPS’s Organised Child Sexual Abuse Unit was set up last year as a specialist unit dedicated to prosecuting child sexual abuse, in all its forms.”
The NCA’s CEOP Education programme supports parents, carers, children and the professionals to ensure young people have safe and positive experiences online.
Anyone being pressured or threatened into sending sexual images or videos online should remove themselves immediately from the conversation, not respond further to any contact, and report the matter to police or a trusted adult.
There are a range of resources available on our website, thinkuknow.co.uk, for adults – to support them in navigating the online world and conversations about it with their children, and children themselves – to help build their resilience online and learn what to do if something doesn’t seem right.
15 September 2023