A MAN who stole a woman’s Facebook identity and carried out sexual conversations in her name has narrowly avoided being sent to jail.

Matthew Hardy, of Forest Place, appeared at Northwich Magistrates’ Court for sentencing on Friday after he admitted hacking and harassment.

The 20-year-old took control of Samantha Boniface’s Facebook and internet accounts between December 24 last year and July 1 this year, locking her out of both.

Anouska Youds, prosecuting, described how the disturbing nature of the fake online conversations Hardy had with Miss Boniface’s friends and contacts became apparent in the summer when she was approached by men at work.

On one of these occasions Miss Boniface, a cashier at Tesco, in Manchester Road, was approached by a customer who said ‘are you the girl who was talking dirty to me an hour ago?’ and winked at her.

“This caused her a great deal of embarrassment and made her feel extremely uncomfortable,” said Mrs Youds.

Other conversations carried out in Miss Boniface’s name included one with a friend’s father, suggesting that she wanted to be intimate with him, and one with a married friend suggesting that the couple had had sex and she wanted to do it again.

Mrs Youds said when Ms Boniface eventually re-gained control of her accounts she was shocked at what she found.

“She was horrified and disgusted to see who the defendant had been having conversations with and the nature of those conversations,” said Mrs Youds.

“She had more than 80 conversations to go through and dreaded what else had been said.”

Mrs Youds said Hardy had no previous convictions but had received a harassment warning for a similar offence in May.

Chris Johnson, defending, said Hardy had made his own referral to mental health services and treatment was being considered.

He explained Hardy acted in the way he did because he had been bullied throughout education and Miss Boniface, who attended the same college as him, made his lilfe a misery, but that he did not fully understand the social impact of his behaviour because he himself is isolated.

Mr Johnson said: “He has had the fright of his life, he’s not thought things through.

“He’s not even been that sophisticated – you might think it’s a sophisitcated thing to do but he was easily traced, it’s not something that has the hallmark of an expert.”

Magistrate Clive Waring, chairman of the bench, said: “You have caused your victim distress, embarrassment, upset and a lot of heartache.

“That’s also affected her family and friends.

“You have compounded this because you haven’t learnt from a previous offence when you were given a warning.”

Hardy was sentenced to a four-month imprisonment suspended for 12 months and 250 hours of work in the community, he was also given a restraining order and has to pay £300 compensation to Miss Boniface and £120 prosecution costs.