By Cara Sulieman
A TEENAGER who extorted almost £90,000 from 10 men on gay sex chat lines by threatening to play recordings of their sordid calls to their families, friends and the police has been jailed for 45 months.
Kelz Sutherland, 19, – also known as William Watson – worked on a sex hotline from his bedroom at the family home in Edinburgh taking incoming calls from men who had seen adverts in magazines.
Often putting on a voice, he would quickly lead the caller into talking about underage sex before interrupting the call with using a different voice pretending to be a call monitor.
He then warned callers that the discussions were illegal and recordings could be sent to police.
However he said they could be deleted from the ‘system’ for a fee, pocketing himself thousands of pounds.
Some of the blackmail victims were left in serious financial difficulty.
Others said they were left stressed when Sutherland – acting as an official from the chat lines – repeatedly harassed them for payments.
The elaborate scam only came to light when one of the men contacted police, who then set up a sting codenamed ‘Operation Machine’ to track down Sutherland.
By tracing the bank details given to the callers, detectives found he had been leading a lavish lifestyle of chauffeur driven cars and nights out at expensive bars with the extorted cash.
And today at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Sheriff Deidre MacNeill QC sentenced Sutherland to three years and nine months behind bars for extorting £87,700 from 10 men aged between 32 and 65 years old between 1 January 2008 and 31 December 2009.
His defence agent, Fiona Cooper, said that Sutherland’s troubled background and family life had left him with certain feelings about both chat lines and paedophiles.
She told the court that the teenager had been put into a secure school when he was younger and absconded, leaving him in the hands of an older man.
She said: “That older man harboured him and sexually abused him and introduced him to chat lines at an extremely young age.
“This is what coloured his view as far as chat lines are concerned.”
She also told the court that he didn’t set up the chat lines, but was working on them when he felt he had to act after some of the clients started to talk about underage children.
Ms Cooper said: “The position of the accused is that he didn’t set up chat lines. There was never any suggestion that he did set up chat lines.
“It’s his position that these were carousel chat lines – that he could listen to the messages that these people had left, he could leave messages and he could contact them.
“It was the content of their messages and their chat which prompted him to ask for the money.”
When Sutherland was last in court in August, he shouted out during the case that the men had been “paedophiles”.
Miss Cooper told the court today that he maintained this position.
She said: “That’s the view he has of them.
“The chats which caused him to act related to underage persons because of his background and what happened to him – he found this very difficult.
“He anonymously reported several of these people on the Crimestoppers number. He did then go on to extort the money from them.”
She also told that court that the teenager had to be put into protection at Polmont whilst in custody after other prisoners found out what he had done in the newspapers.
She said: “Because of the content of the articles he had to effectively go into protection.”
The court was told that every single caller had told police that the person on the other end of the line had initiated the discussions about underage sex, although Sutherland protested this.
One caller, aged 40, even claimed the stress of his £2,100 debt to Sutherland may have been a factor when he was diagnosed with epilepsy, according to procurator fiscal Graeme Jessop.
Fiscal depute Graeme Jessop told court: “Once police heard from one caller, they began recording calls to his number.
“He threatened to bring shame on their families by exposing the content of the calls about underage sex.”
Initially his mother, Mary, was arrested because the bank account given to callers was in her name.
She told police she had given the account over to her son, who she said worked as an escort and “talked sexy” to callers in his bedroom.
Mr Jessop added: “Some complainers suffered high degrees of stress as a result of the debt.
“One was admitted to hospital for two weeks for treatment and another said the stress may have been a factor when he was diagnosed with epilepsy.
“Another man said it was extremely upsetting as he went into his maximum overdraft.
“One said he had difficulty leaving the house, had trouble sleeping and was generally very upset as a result.”
He said Sutherland used the money to pay a chauffeur company, who were traced and confirmed he was a regular customer and went to lavish nights out.”
The biggest single amount extorted by Sutherland came from a 62 year-old caller who phoned what he thought was a one-to-one chat line.
Sutherland led the discussion towards underage sex, only to then pretend to interrupt the call as a monitor called Nick.
He told the elderly caller it would cost him £34,000 to remove the recording from the system, otherwise it would be sent to the police, who would put him on the sex offenders register.
The caller replied: “I can’t afford this”, but Sutherland demanded it in three instalments and pursued the payments for three months until he had the full amount.
When police eventually raided Sutherland’s home in Bath Street, Edinburgh, on 23 January this year they found the personal details of the callers including their dates of birth, phone numbers and even their friends and relatives’ addresses.
None of the cash was recovered by police.
Sentencing Sutherland, Sheriff MacNeill said: “Rarely in the course of dealing with cases in court have I seen such a selection of reports showing such a troubled background.”
But she went on to say Sutherland’s crime was “despicable”.
Sheriff MacNeill added: “There are strong indications that your behaviour is compulsive and you pose a high risk to others.”
“Devious and manipulative”
Detective Chief Inspector, Richard Thomas, who oversaw the investigation welcomed today’s sentence.
He said: “William Watson used a variety of techniques to extort a substantial amount of cash from his victims.
“Preying on their sexuality and vulnerability, Watson would disguise his voice and impersonate people of authority.
“This allowed him to make threats and obtain thousands of pounds from those he targeted.
“In carrying out his extortions, Watson gave no consideration for the distress and trauma he was putting his victims through and showed himself to be a devious and manipulative individual.
“Today’s sentence is not only testament to the hard work of the officers who prepared the case against Watson, but to the courage of his victims, who came forward.
“Their assistance was crucial to bringing their blackmailer to justice.
“I would like to reassure all members of our communities that Lothian and Borders Police will not tolerate criminal behaviour based on a person’s sexuality, race, religion or disability and will robustly deal with anyone found to be responsible.”