A SELF-CONFESSED IT geek who hacked into strangers' computers for his own entertainment has escaped an immediate jail term.

Ryan Thompson, of Hughes Avenue, Orford, was sentenced to six months in prison which was suspended for 12 months at Warrington Crown Court on Friday after pleading guilty to unauthorised access of a computer.

The court heard how the 26-year-old, who has no previous convictions, was arrested following a joint investigation between the FBI and the National Crime Agency.

Thompson, who is unemployed, started targeting computer users after buying IT software – a remote access tool – for £30 online.

After setting up the software he was able to gain access to the computers of those who clicked on a pop-up - often used on gaming websites offering a cheat to users.

Those targeted were mainly teenagers and young adults, the court heard.

This would provide access to files on the computer, webcams, key strokes on the keypad and personal account details.

On one occasion Thompson found pornographic images on a computer and threatened to expose the owner unless he paid $5.

But this threat was not carried out and no further contact was made.

Webcam stills were also found in a folder on his computer.

Prosecuting Jo Maxwell said: “He accepts they were complete strangers and in an interview to the police he reiterated that he did want to use the access for financial gain as far as his interests are concerned."

It is understood the offences happened over a 12 month period in 2014 with the defendant stopping one month prior to his arrest.

Defending Keith Jones said Thompson’s actions were down to a 'geek-level interest in computers' and put it down to 'naivety and stupidity'.

Judge Tina Landale decided to suspend the sentence after hearing that Thompson had stopped before his arrest, the support he currently provides to his mum and his previous good character.

She added: "You committed a very serious offence across the world by installing a programme on your computer and bringing misery to many young people.

"I'm satisfied you did target young people because of the sites you used.”

Thompson was also ordered to pay £300 and carry out 280 hours of unpaid work.