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A 23-year ‘confidence trickster’ who scammed a total of seven people – including an older gay man and a single mother with dyslexia – has been jailed for 20 months on Tuesday.

Belfast Crown Court heard that Matthew Harvey’s offending was linked to a gambling addiction and that after several successful wins he developed a taste for an extravangant lifestyle.

Harvey, from Bridge Street in Newry, was handed a 20-month sentence by Judge Patricia Smyth, who said he had deliberately targeted his victims. He will spend half his sentence behind bars, with the remaining ten months on licence.

Harvey’s offending occurred between October 2016 and March 2017, when he was living in the North Down area. His criminality resulted in a loss of around £25,000 – £18,000 of which he scammed from one victim alone.

The victim – a gay man in his 50s with a well paid job – was contacted by Harvey on a dating website. Over the course of two months, the man handed over £18,000 in varying amounts at a time he believed he was developing a relationship with Harvey.

Between October and November last year, this man was told many lies by Harvey, including asking for money to pay for urgent medical care for his ill father and needing cash to cover the cost of his mother’s funeral.

These claims were branded as “untrue” by a Crown prosecutor, who branded the lies as “rouses used to extract money.”

The 23-year-old, who appeared before the court with 18 previous convictions, was told by Judge Smyth: “You deceived him in the most shocking way over a two-month period.”

Other victims of Harvey’s criminality included a woman he went to primary school with, and a single mother with dyslexia.

Between November 2016 and January 2017, he persuaded three people to take out telephone contracts in their own names. He then talked them into selling the phones at various electric shops – resulting in losses to both the individuals in question, and the stores where the phones were obtained.

The three victims were persuaded to take out contracts, with Harvey telling them he would change the payment and contract details into his name.

One of these victims was a 20-year old woman he met on the train. They struck up a friendship, with Harvey telling her he had been engaged but that his estranged fiancée was moving to Australia.

The friendship developed over several days, with the prosecutor revealing: “He gained her confidence and persuaded her to take out five telephone contracts in her name. On each occasion he convinced her they had taken out the wrong iPhone, sold it then took out a further contract in her name.”

The woman then told her family, and later the police, about what had happened. She said didn’t feel threatened, but as time went on she felt “increasingly under pressure” by a man whom she believed she was starting a relationship with.

In March 2017, Harvey targeted a single mother with dyslexia whose child had autism. He applied for two online loans in her name, and also persuaded her to take out a contract for an iPhone and iPad in her name.

Saying the items were for his church, Harvey told her he would transfer responsibility for the finance into his name, which he failed to do. Prior to taking out the contracts, he took her to a bar in Belfast where he bought her drinks.

When his offending came to light, he was arrested coming off a flight from Cuba. He subsequently admitted to multiple charges of fraud by false representation, as well as thefts.

Conan Rea, the barrister representing Harvey, said it was accepted by his client that the offending was “low, mean and despicable”.

The barrister also told the court that while there was “no doubt” some of Harvey’s victims were vulnerable, there was “no clear evidence of deliberate targeting because of such vulnerabilities.”

Mr Rea said Harvey has a long history of mental illness, has ADHD and also has problems with both alcohol and gambling. This backdrop of gambling led to Harvey’s offending, Mr Rea said.

Sending Harvey to jail, Judge Smyth said she accepted that the root of his offending was his gambling addiction, and that after several successes, he developed a taste for an “extravagant lifestyle.”

Judge Smyth also noted both the number of victims, and the impact Harvey’s offending has had on them.