First person convicted of cyber-flashing in England and Wales jailed for 66 weeks

The first person in England and Wales to be convicted of a cyber-flashing offence has been jailed for 66 weeks.

Nicholas Hawkes was convicted under the Online Safety Act after cyber-flashing became an offence on January 31 this year.

The 39-year-old (pictured), from Basildon, Essex, was already a convicted sex offender when he sent unsolicited images of his erect penis to a 15-year-old girl and a woman in her sixties on February 9 this year.

Southend Crown Court heard on Tuesday that that evening Hawkes asked to use his father’s phone to call probation.

He went into another room where he sent the indecent photo via WhatsApp to a woman in her sixties, using his father’s phone.

Minutes later, on the same device, he sent an explicit image to the child over iMessage, who was said to have been left “overwhelmed and crying”.

Both victims took screenshots of the messages and the woman reported him to Essex Police the same day.

Prosecuting, David Barr said the offences “fall as part of an established pattern of behaviour of the defendant”.

The court heard Hawkes’ offending has been exclusively sexual in nature and started after he was kidnapped, stabbed and held at a £5,000 ransom demanded from his father when he was 31 years old.

Barry Gilbert, defending, argued Hawkes does not receive sexual gratification from his offending and instead “does it to create chaos when he’s under personal pressure” as a result of his PTSD following the attack.

However, Judge Samantha Leigh rejected the argument that he did not receive sexual gratification and said “you clearly are deeply disturbed and have a warped view of yourself and your sexual desires”.

She added: “There is a duty that I have that is a duty to protect, there is only one sentence for this set of offending – it clearly crosses the custody threshold.”

Hawkes admitted during an earlier hearing at Southend Magistrates’ Court to two counts of sending a photograph or film of genitals to cause alarm, distress or humiliation.

The Ministry of Justice said the intent clause was included in the new offence to prevent “over-criminalising” people who did not have a “malicious” objective, particularly young people.

The wording would also protect those coerced into sharing explicit images of themselves, it added.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC said: “Cyber-flashing is a degrading and distressing crime which cannot be tolerated or normalised.

“We’ve changed the law so those who perpetrate these vile acts face time behind bars, and today’s sentence sends an unequivocal message that such behaviour will have severe consequences.”

The offence carries a maximum two-year sentence.

Despite his previous offending, Hawkes has reportedly not received any treatment.

Though he was offered 12 appointments with a psychiatrist he did not receive them as the waiting list was too long, the court was told.

He was jailed at Southend Crown Court on Tuesday.

Responding to his sentence, Hannah von Dadelszen, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East of England, said: “Cyber-flashing is a serious crime which leaves a lasting impact on victims, but all too often it can be dismissed as thoughtless ‘banter’ or a harmless joke.

“Just as those who commit indecent exposure in the physical world can expect to face the consequences, so too should offenders who commit their crimes online; hiding behind a screen does not hide you from the law.

“Using the new legislation, our prosecutors worked to deliver swift justice – securing a guilty plea just four days after Nicholas Hawkes sent disgusting photos to his victims.”

Cyber-flashing can involve offenders sending people an unsolicited sexual image on social media, dating apps, Bluetooth or Airdrop.

Victims of the offence and other image-based abuses receive lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences Act from the point they report it.

Hawkes was already on the sex offenders register until November 2033 after last year being convicted of sexual activity with a child under 16 years old and exposure, for which he also received a community order.

On Tuesday he pleaded guilty to breaching the order and breaching a suspended sentence for another sexual offence.

He was also sentenced for those offences and will serve half of the 66 weeks in prison and will then be released on license.

He was handed a restraining order for both women lasting 10 years, and a sexual harm prevention order banning him from approaching women who he does not know on public highways and in parks for 15 years.

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