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London - A Royal Marine was targeted by cruel vigilantes and quit his job after a decorator stole his identity to bombard women with lewd images of himself.

Painter and decorator Graeme Brandon pretended to be Steele Saunders after coming across the commando’s Facebook account in early 2017, a court heard.

Brandon then used Gumtree to obtain the mobile numbers of 27 random women before sending them explicit messages via messaging service WhatsApp.

Over the course of a year, the 44-year-old sent almost 30 messages – many of which contained images of his private parts – while hiding behind Mr Saunders’s identity. A court heard the messages left the women – aged between 27 and 75 – feeling ‘distressed and violated’.

As a result, Mr Saunders had his car vandalised by vigilantes – and quit the Armed Forces due to the stress of being wrongly accused. He broke down in tears as he saw Brandon jailed for 30 months at Bournemouth Crown Court.

In a victim impact statement, Mr Saunders said: ‘The thought that people were doubting me was unbearable. There have been incidents when I was out with my family that people recognised my face and started shouting things like ‘paedo’ towards me.’ He said his car had been vandalised and he had been threatened by people while feeling ‘helpless’ trying to prove his innocence.

He added that he found it ‘hard to put into words’ how much the ordeal affected his life and mental health.

Mark Gammon, prosecuting, said: ‘Identity theft is an insidious crime, which has a traumatising and long-lasting impact on victims’ lives,’ and slammed Brandon for his ‘cowardice’ in hiding behind Mr Saunders’s identity.

The court heard that Brandon, from Bournemouth, also threatened some of his victims by telling them he ‘knew where they lived’ and that he was ‘coming to get them’.

Police arrested Brandon in October 2017 after tracing a mobile number to him – but he was released on bail. But he sent a further seven messages and was arrested again when police found two mobiles, used to send the messages, hidden behind a radiator.

Thomas Evans, defending, said Brandon’s father died just before he committed the offences, adding that he was drinking heavily and ‘did not think’ about his victims’ feelings. Brandon pleaded guilty to 28 counts of sending indecent images and one of unauthorised access to computer data.

Daily Mail