Sexual predator ‘allowed to hunt for more victims’
Judge: Police guilty of ‘dereliction of duty’ over online offender
AN online sexual predator was allowed to continue hunting for new victims for more than a year because of the way police handled the case, a court heard.
AN online sexual predator was allowed to continue hunting for new victims for more than a year because of the way police handled the case, a court has heard.
Matthew Thomas sought out vulnerable girls on sites such as Facebook and Instagram before grooming and emotionally blackmailing them.
A judge said police were guilty of a “dereliction of public duty” over aspects of the case, and demanded an explanation from a senior officer.
Swansea Crown Court heard Dyfed-Powys Police were first alerted to the activities of Thomas in December 2017 by officers in the Cleveland force.
Paul Hobson, prosecuting, said Thomas contacted a young teenage girl in the north east of England, and the pair began chatting online. The court heard Thomas was initially flattering towards the girl, complementing her on her looks, and then began asking for pictures – initially non-sexual, but then intimate snap shots.
Acting on the information from Cleveland Police, Thomas was arrested and questioned by Dyfed-Powys Police in January 2018 – during the interview he made “significant admissions” about his behaviour. The court heard he was released under investigation – and resumed offending.
Mr Hobson said that over the following 12 months Thomas contacted three more young girls online, again using a mixture of “threats and emotional blackmail” to get them to send him indecent photographs.
He was arrested again in August 2018 after a paedophile hunter group reported he had been chatting to one of their “decoy” profiles online.
The court heard that in November of that year he was made the subject of interim sexual harm order at Llanelli Magistratess Court because of concerns about his behaviour.
But he was not charged with any offences, and continued offending.
The prosecutor said that by December 2018 there were 11 separate police investigations being carried out into Thomas’ activities. It wasn’t until January 2019 that Thomas was charged by Dyfed-Powys Police.
Thomas, 21, of Nightingale Court, Llanelli, had previously pleaded guilty to multiple counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, causing a child to watch a sexual act, and possession and distribution of indecent images when he appeared in the dock for sentencing.
Judge Paul Thomas QC said aspects of the way the investigation had been handled were a “dereliction of public duty”.
He said he wanted a report from an officer of assistant chief constable rank or above within 21 days detailing how the situation had been allowed to develop, and what changes were going to be made.
He sentenced Thomas to a 10-year extended sentence comprising six years in custody and a four-year licence period.
Thomas will also be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, and subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order.
Dyfed-Powys Police were asked to comment but declined.