Seaham man who tricked teens into taking explicit images is jailed

Paul Leighton Credit: Northumbria Police

A paedophile from County Durham has been jailed for 16 years after posing as a child online and encouraging teenagers to send him explicit pictures and videos.

Paul Leighton who posed as a teenage girl on fake Facebook profiles was arrested when police seized his phone following an FBI investigation.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 32-year-old then used the images hewas sent as leverage to blackmail his victims and commanded them to take vidoes of themselves carrying out sexual acts.

The court heard one 14-year-old teen boy in America was repeatedly ordered by Leighton to rape his baby cousin, who was just 12 months old and in nappies, or risk images of his earlier activities being put online and sent to his family.

The youth, who Leighton warned "do everything I say to her, or I will",complied with Leighton's instructions and subjected the baby to a campaignof shocking abuse.

The youth faces charges in the U.S. in relation to his attacks on thechild.

Leighton admitted multiple rape charges in relation to the baby, despitenever having been in the same room as her and being 4,000 miles away when the attacks happened.

Because Leighton "coerced" the sexual abuse, he was able to be charged with it, despite not carrying out the acts personally or being in the same room when they happened.

The court heard Leighton also forced a 13-year-old girl in America toengage in repeated sexual acts with her own brother, who now faces incest charges.

Leighton admitted causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activityin relation to the girl.

The court heard Leighton gave his victims "lists" of sexual acts he wantedthem to carry out on others, on camera, and warned them "block me, I show all".

Leighton's shocking catalogue of crimes have had a devastating effect onhis victims and some teens have been left suicidal.

Prosecutor Paul Reid told the court: "He said he had created 30 to 40Facebook accounts and joined various teen chat groups on Facebook.

"He said this was to enable him to engage in chat with children and gopersuade them to send illegal images to him.

"In order to convince them he was himself a female child, he would sendthem illegal images which he had in his possession.

"He admitted he would search Facebook to identify friends and family of the child concerned in order to be able to threaten to send the illegal imagesto their family if they did not send further photographs to him."

The court heard Leighton used widely available stock photographs of teenage girls to make his fake profiles appear to be genuine females.

The only victim Leighton actually touched himself was a nine-year-old girlhe sexually abused, twice, after meeting her mother over a dating site.

Leighton pleaded guilty to three offences of rape, two of sexual assault,four of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, four orblackmail, as well as offences of making possessing and distributing indecent images and extreme pornography.

He admitted possessing a small amount of cannabis.

Detectives believe hundreds of children across the UK, America, Canada and Australia, may have been molested under his command.

Judge Robert Adams told Leighton, of Malvern Crescent Seaham, CountyDurham: "You, as I am sure you now accept, effectively destroyed the lives of the people against whom you made these threats.

"This was utterly appalling abuse of a large number of children.

"It is suspected you may have been involved in abusing a large number ofchildren in the US, Canada and perhaps Australia.

"You effectively obtained images then by threats, blackmail, got moreexplicit and more extreme photographs.

"In my view, you are clearly dangerous."

Judge Adams said Leighton poses a risk to children in the UK and abroad and concluded Leighton's behaviour had become an "obsession".

The judge sentenced Leighton to 16 years behind bars with an extendedlicence period of a further six years.

Leighton must abide by a sexual harm prevention order and sign the sexoffenders register for life.

Andrew Rutter, defending, told the court: "He has said this was not forsexual gratification but because it gave him a feeling of power to exercise the utmost control over other individuals".

An NSPCC spokesperson for the North of England said: “Leighton is a dangerous and manipulative individual who used the online world to command and direct harrowing child sexual abuse.

“The vast scale of his offending is deeply disturbing and many of his vulnerable victims will need help and support to rebuild their lives.

“This case highlights the dangers young people face online every day and it’s vital that parents and carers talk to their children about staying safe in the digital world."