Prison for Rugby man who subjected vulnerable friend to regime of spiteful bullying to make Youtube 'prank' videos

A man who subjected a friend with whom he made prank videos for Youtube to a regime of spiteful bullying, including shooting him with a BB gun, has been jailed.

Steven Anderson had denied blackmailing his victim, who was described as a vulnerable young man, by making threatening demands to him for money.

Steven Anderson.

Steven Anderson.

But Anderson (25) of Cornwallis Road, Rugby, pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to an alternative offence of harassment, and was jailed for eight months.

Prosecutor Nicholas Berry said Anderson’s 25-year-old victim suffers from autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, and although he has a job, he is shy and ‘very much a loner’ who struggles to make friends and had low self-confidence, but is easily-led.

He and Anderson had first met when they were both at Warwickshire College in Rugby, and got back in touch through Facebook in early 2017.

They began making videos of them carrying out various ‘challenges’ against one-another and posting them on YouTube to try to make some money from hits on them.

Steven Anderson.

Steven Anderson.

But on one occasion the victim disclosed to Anderson that he had saved a large amount of money in his bank account.

“Between February and April the defendant requested and obtained money from him by threatening him and putting pressure on him. In total he received about £300,” said Mr Berry.

It began with a request for £50 for a tattoo, backed up with texts, one of which read: “Will you give me the 50? Do you want to do it the easy way or the hard way? Your choice.”

And Mr Berry said: “What there also is a lot of is the defendant being disgruntled with him about being late for arrangements to meet up to make these videos.

“On occasions when he did turn up late, the defendant would punch him to the arm, and on one occasion kicked him to the testicles in front of other people.

“On the 15th of April he took his glasses and snapped them, saying ‘That’s for being late. Don’t be late again.’

During another incident when he was late, Anderson shot him about ten times with pellets from a BB gun, having instructed another man to record it – and the video was then posted online.

Eventually the tormented young man told his manager at work of some of the things that had been going on, saying he was thinking of killing himself, and she called the police.

When he was arrested, Anderson claimed he had only had £50 on one occasion, and that the text messages had been sent ‘in good humour.’ He denied deliberately shooting him, claiming he had been aiming at a ball he was bouncing at the time, but did accept making him do things like push peas as punishment for being late.

Michael Anning, defending, said Anderson had not been aware the other young man had any particular disability, and he had been ‘an enthusiastic participant’ in the making of prank videos for YouTube.

“But of course matters went beyond that. He accepts that what he did was unpleasant and amounts to bullying and involved acts of violence, but not causing any serious injury.”

But since then there have been more positive features in his life, including moving back in with his parents, and Mr Anning suggested he would be ‘suitable for a suspended sentence.’

But jailing Anderson, Judge Barry Berlin told him: “As you have accepted, you knew he had certain vulnerabilities, he was a solitary and shy individual and, as you found, easily led.

“You saw an opportunity to make money in a different way, and that his vulnerability could be exploited by you when he told you he had cash in the bank.

“You then became involved in a campaign of harassment against him, in my view, with the specific aim of getting money.

“This was not a one-off action but a concerted and spiteful act of bullying over a period of two months.

“The matters I find particularly appalling are that on one occasion you kicked him in the testicles, on another you took his spectacles and snapped them in front of him, and then there’s the incident with the BB gun, firing it at him some ten times.

“One can understand why he said he felt like killing himself because of your behaviour. It was persistent action over a long period. This is a nasty offence of spiteful bullying.”