Sex­ual preda­tor ‘al­lowed to hunt for more vic­tims’

Judge: Po­lice guilty of ‘dere­lic­tion of duty’ over online of­fender

Llanelli Star - - FRONT PAGE - Ja­son Evans

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.

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