• Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

A woman who posed as a teenage boy to sexually assault up to 50 girls as young as 14 after grooming them online, has been jailed for eight years.

Gemma Watts, 21, targeted youngsters in Hampshire, Surrey, Plymouth and the West Midlands who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age.

Watts travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, disguised with her long hair tied into a bun and wearing a baseball cap, baggy jogging bottoms and a hoodie.

She convinced them she was 16-year-old "Jake Waton".

She used her own picture on Jake's Snapchat and Instagram accounts, targeting girls aged 14-16 by liking their profiles.

Watts was "adept at both manipulating people and the continuing subterfuge", prosecutor Barnaby Shaw told her sentencing hearing at Winchester Crown Court on Friday.

Gemma Watts arriving at Winchester Crown Court on Friday morning.

Watts, who lived at home with her mother in Enfield, north London, shared skateboarding videos, used teenage slang and flattered them with complimentary messages, calling them "babe" or other pet names.

She would then swap messages with victims, including intimate photographs, using WhatsApp, Snapchat, or text, and speak over the phone before meeting them in person.

Watts was so convincing that she even spent time as Jake with some of the girls' parents.

Credit: Hampshire Police

All of Watts' victims believed they were in a relationship with a teenageboy until police revealed she was in fact an adult woman.

One of her teenage victims, in an impact statement read to the court, said that her "heart exploded" when police revealed Watts' true identity to her.

Watts, who once had a promising football career, pleaded guilty to seven sexual assault and grooming charges.

The offences relate to four girls, including a 14-year-old from Hampshire andthree 15-year-olds from Surrey, Plymouth and the West Midlands.

It's been life-changing for all of the victims involved. They believed they were in a relationship with a young teenage boy, to then find out this was actually a female. For some of these girls it was their first relationship. She's duped them the whole time. "A lot of these victims are young, quite innocent. They have been completely taken in by Gemma Watts. They all believed they were in a relationship with a male.

Detective Constable Phillipa Kenwright, Metropolitan Police

Investigators have identified a total of seven victims, some of whom don't want to give a statement.

Watts first came to the attention of Hampshire Police in March 2018 after adoctor raised concerns that a girl was in a relationship with an older boy.

The Met got involved in July that year after the defendant admitted she hadbeen sexually active as Jake with the first three victims.

She was released under investigation by the South East force but arrested again in October 2018 by BTP officers, who found her with the fourth girl, from the West Midlands, after the victim was reported missing by her parents.

Officers had initially believed Watts was 16-year-old Jake and were taking her home to London before making the link.

Scotland Yard secured a civil Sexual Risk Order in November 2018, in a bid to protect the public, which Watts breached just two weeks later.

She was held on remand after being arrested for sexual assault in March last year but was free again in August when she was acquitted.

Watts was finally charged in September and pleaded guilty to seven offences in November.

The NSPCC has help and advice for parents and children worried about grooming:

  • www.nspcc.org.uk

  • www.childline.org.uk 0800 1111

  • A dedicated online safety helpline with 02 - 0808 800 5002 and our general helpline 08008 800 5000