Chorley man, 20, jailed for 16 months after cyber attacks on police websites

Liam Reece Watts, 20, of Stratford Road, Chorley has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for cyber-attacks on police websites
Liam Reece Watts, 20, of Stratford Road, Chorley has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for cyber-attacks on police websites

A 20-year-old Chorley man has been jailed for 16 months after pleading guilty to cyber attacks on police websites.

Liam Reece Watts, of Stratford Road, Chorley, appeared at Chester Crown Court on Monday, August 12 where he was sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Liam Watts had previously been handed eight months behind bars in 2017 after being found guilty of a hoax bomb threat at an apartments complex in Warrington

Liam Watts had previously been handed eight months behind bars in 2017 after being found guilty of a hoax bomb threat at an apartments complex in Warrington

Watts had earlier pleaded guilty to two counts of unauthorised acts with intent to impair operation of or prevent / hinder access to a computer.

The charges related to two Deliberate Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on the Greater Manchester Police and Cheshire Constabulary websites.

During two separate incidents in August last year and on Friday, March 22 this year, Watts used specialist software to overload the websites and cause a 24-hour malfunction – meaning that the public could not access the sites or report minor crimes and contact officers.

During the hearing the Judge described Watts’ actions as "a fundamental attack on the heart of society."

The attack on the Cheshire police website, also impacted on the Cheshire Police and Crime Commissioners website.

During both attacks Watts posted messages on social media in which he admitted responsibility.

The Chorley man even taunted officers about the pleasure he had at being able to bring the sites down.

He then claimed responsibility for the attacks in a series of tweets under the identity 'Synic'.

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In one of the messages posted at the time of the attack on the Cheshire police website, Watts claimed the attack was retaliation for a previous conviction relating to a bomb hoax in Warrington.

The Twitter account was traced back to Watts, and he was arrested at his home in Chorley on March 26 - four days after the second attack.

Watts had previously been handed eight months behind bars in 2017, after he phoned security at a town centre apartments complex in Warrington – purporting to be a police officer and claiming that an explosive device had been left in the building.

The building had to be evacuated after his bomb hoax, which came only days after the Manchester Arena terrorist attack.

Detective Sergeant Chris Maddocks, of the Cheshire Constabulary Cyber Crime Unit, said: "Watts is an immature individual who deprived the people of Cheshire and Greater Manchester of their access to a public service by taking down Police websites.

"While sitting behind his computer screen he clearly felt safe enough to commit a serious offence under Computer Misuse Act offences.

"While attacking police websites may not be seen as a serious offence, the impact of Watts’s actions should not be underestimated.

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"As a result of the two DDoS attacks, he rendered the websites inaccessible, meaning that thousands of people were unable to access the sites to view vital information, seek updates on the progress of ongoing investigations, report minor crimes or contact local officers.

"I hope that Watts' conviction will act as a warning to anyone who would engage in this type of behaviour online.

"This shows how seriously both police and the courts treat crimes of this nature.

"I would also like to reassure the public that at no point was Watts able to view any confidential information, nor was he able to access any police systems.

"Both of the sites are provided on standalone platforms and all of the information stored on them is accessible to public."

If you have been victim of a crime online call Cheshire Police on 101 or Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040. Police are also ready to hear information you may have on perpetrators of this type of crime, alternatively you can give information anonymously, via Crimestoppers, by phoning 0800 555 111 or visiting www.crimestoppers-uk.org.