A "MANIPULATIVE" former civil servant hacked into more than 500 women's computer accounts and blackmailed them into sending intimate pictures.

Akash Sondhi "wreaked havoc" on hundreds of women for more than two years by posing as their friends to get access to their social media accounts.

The 27-year-old, of Hedingham Close, Chafford Hundred, would then lock the women out of their accounts and demand intimate photos of them.

He would threaten to post images he already had of them from hacking their accounts to friends and family if the women didn't comply.

Sondhi's 573 victims were from Essex and across the globe, with some as far as Australia and Hong Kong.

In some cases were under the age of 18, in the "astonishing" amount of reach his offending had.

Sondhi, who previously worked for the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and Cabinet Office, hacked the accounts, mainly on Snapchat but also other platforms, from Boxing Day 2016 before he was finally stopped and arrested in March last year.

Some of the young women complied with his requests and in at least six cases he carried out his threats.

At Basildon Crown Court today, Sondhi admitted 42 counts of using a computer to enable unauthorised access of data, plus 21 counts of blackmail, and two counts of voyeurism, relating to when he secretly filmed a woman getting undressed.

One of Sondhi's victims bravely shared her victim personal statement in court.

The woman said: "I felt hopeless at work.

"I attempted to take my own life due to the level of worthlessness.

"It has had a massive impact on my friendships."

The woman said she also felt guilty and responsible for some of the other victims having their data stolen by Sondhi, but was assured by Judge Samantha Cohen that it was not her fault.

Judge Cohen told Sondhi: "You were a source of pride to your family, but now you are a source of shame.

"The impact has been far more serious for the women you blackmailed.

"A number of them were aged 16 to 18.

"There was an extreme level of anxiety.

"You wrecked havoc for over two years."

Judge Cohen said the report into Sondhi's offending said it was "predatory, manipulative and motivated by sexual desires".

Joseph Stickings, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Akash Sondhi was an extremely manipulative man who inflicted emotional and psychological damage on young women whilst also getting gratification from their images and videos.

"I would like to thank all of the women who bravely came forward to tell of their traumatic experiences at the hands of Akash Sondhi, their accounts provided strong evidence and the CPS were able to create such a compelling case of prosecution that Akash Sondhi pleaded guilty to all counts."

Detective Sergeant Ian Collins, from the Essex Police Cyber Crime Unit said: “This is an excellent result for the 573 victims in this case and the Essex Cyber Team.

“The sentence Akash Sondhi has received today reflects how much distress he caused to his victims.

“He targeted with no remorse purporting to be a friend on social media after hacking accounts, then once he got access to their intimate pictures he would attempt to blackmail them around disclosure of the images to friends and family demanding more images and videos of his own choice putting the victims through an ordeal causing extreme distress and embarrassment.

“Since his remand and now this sentence we have manged to stop this vile offender form targeting more victims.

“This is a wakeup call for anyone committing this type of crime we will catch you and bring you to justice, and you can go to prison for the distress caused to the victims.

“I urge anyone using social media not to store intimate images of themselves to secure and protect your data and make sure you don’t become a victim.

“Don’t share passwords even if you think it’s a trusted friend that asks you for them it might not be, its chat in a text”

“There are several ways to secure your online accounts which most online providers support such as the use of two factor authentication (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) put this with a strong unique password for each online account will protect you and your data.” DS Collins added: “We have received assistance from forces across the country in supporting victims and gathering information and I want to say particular thank you to Avon and Somerset Police, West Mercia Police, North Yorkshire Police, Merseyside Police and Police Scotland.

“I also want to pay tribute to the professionalism, dedication, and tenacity of Detective Constable Arran Holmes whose commitment to this case has ensured Sondhi will be behind bars for a significant amount of time and unable to target anyone else.”