Counter Strike: Blackmail
25 January 2018
Blackmail may sound like an old-fashioned threat, but when the threat is to leak information to the media, the ubiquity of outlets for publication, along with the ability to store information for future use and the ease of remaining anonymous, makes it an increasingly modern problem. It can arise at any time and in many forms with both individuals and organisations at risk.
One such instance occurred in LJY v Persons Unknown  EWHC 3230 (QB), where on 11 December 2017 the High Court granted a temporary injunction restraining an unknown person from publishing material on the subject of blackmail.
The case concerned a well-known celebrity who had received a letter from an anonymous source threatening the disclosure of private and/or defamatory material if £50,000 was not paid within four days. The blackmailer claimed to have been the victim of criminal conduct by the celebrity, whose name was anonymised by the Court and referred to throughout the judgment as LJY.
While some people may doubt the ability of the Court to prevent the publication of information in the social media age, this case provides a useful reminder of the power of an injunction in the United Kingdom. To our knowledge, the threat has not been carried out and the information and identity of LJY has remained out of the public domain.
Given the successful outcome of the case, it provides useful lessons on how to respond effectively when faced with an anonymous blackmail attempt.
It is worthwhile noting however, that the below advice relates to the United Kingdom specifically. When faced with an anonymous blackmail threat in other jurisdictions, tactics may be different.
The most important thing to do when faced with a potential blackmail is act quickly, especially if the deadline for payment is imminent. In this case, LJY approached their lawyers and the police immediately. By virtue of this quick decision, the lawyers were able to successfully bring injunctive proceedings in the Court before the deadline for payment expired.
Approach the right people
In addition to acting quickly, it is also essential to approach the correct people. Given that blackmail is a serious crime an approach to lawyers and intelligence analysts with the relevant expertise in dealing with blackmail claims is vital.
In this case, LJY did this immediately notwithstanding that the letter warned them not to bring it to the attention of the police, lawyers, agents or employers as that would lead to the information being released.
Focus on a response as well as finding the source
When approaching the right people as explained above, it is vital that those people do not focus exclusively on identifying the source. It is arguably more important to act quickly on a response which is what LJY’s lawyers did by approaching the Court immediately.
However, the best course of action is to simultaneously engage people to focus on making the appropriate application to the Court as well as engaging others to take steps to identify the source of the blackmail.
Conserve the evidence
While this case concerned only a single letter, in the cases of multiple forms of communications, it is essential that all written correspondence and detailed notes of telephone conversations are kept and conserved for the purposes of providing them to the Court and the police.
The key to achieving the above steps is positioning yourself to respond quickly, efficiently and dispassionately to an attack which will seem malicious and personal. Understanding where you might be vulnerable, the actions required to mitigate the damage and the options to prevent further attacks can make a seemingly daunting threat entirely manageable.