‘Predator’ posed as boy to groom girls

Manchester Evening News - - NATIONAL -

A “PREDA­TORY” woman who duped girls as young as 13 into think­ing she was a teenage boy so she could sex­u­ally as­sault them has been jailed for eight years.

Gemma Watts, 21, would con­ceal her long hair be­neath a base­ball cap and wear baggy clothes in elab­o­rate dis­guises that even fooled her vic­tims’ par­ents.

It was not un­til po­lice re­vealed the shock­ing truth about her iden­tity that the girls re­alised the per­sona of teenage “Jake Wa­ton” was a com­plete lie.

In an emo­tional state­ment read out in court, one of the girls said her “heart ex­ploded” when she learned the truth.

Ap­pear­ing at Winch­ester Crown Court, she was de­scribed as a sex­ual of­fender who was “adept at both ma­nip­u­lat­ing peo­ple and the con­tin­u­ing sub­terfuge” by pros­e­cu­tor Barn­aby Shaw.

Watts, of En­field, pleaded guilty at the same court in Novem­ber to seven sex­ual as­sault and groom­ing charges.

The charges she pleaded guilty to re­late to four girls, in­clud­ing a 13-year-old from Hamp­shire and two 14-year-olds and a 16-year-old from Sur­rey, Ply­mouth and the West Mid­lands. How­ever, po­lice be­lieve

Watts – who once dreamed of play­ing pro­fes­sional foot­ball – pos­si­bly as­saulted be­tween 20 and 50 girls.

Pros­e­cu­tor Mr Shaw added: “The de­fen­dant prac­tised a per­sis­tent course of de­ceit on four young teenage girls and in­deed members of their fam­ily.

“These vic­tims were not con­sent­ing to sex­ual ac­tiv­ity be­cause they were de­ceived into think­ing that Gemma Watts was a boy.”

In one case, when Watts was stay­ing at the home of one of her vic­tims, fam­ily members be­came sus­pi­cious.

Sentencing her, judge Su­san Evans QC jailed her for eight years, say­ing she showed “preda­tory be­hav­iour”. The judge said: “Their age, as you plainly knew, made it more likely that they would be sex­u­ally naive, en­abling you to get away with your de­cep­tion. You groomed each of them with tele­phone and in­ter­net con­tact to de­ceive each of them as to your iden­tity.”

Judge Evans said Watts caused “se­vere psy­cho­log­i­cal harm” but ac­cepted that her low IQ, guilty plea, lack of pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions and rel­a­tively low age at the time served as mit­i­ga­tion.

One of the girls said: “When the po­lice told me Jake was in fact called Gemma I thought this was not re­ally real.”

She said she has self-harmed and con­sid­ered sui­cide since then.

Another vic­tim also de­scribed the im­pact of Watts’ crimes, say­ing: “I put a lot of trust in Jake and I feel it was all just a lie.”

Pa­trick Maggs, de­fend­ing Watts, said she un­der­stood her of­fend­ing was “se­ri­ous”, adding: “With Gemma Watts’ low IQ, with her im­ma­tu­rity, I would in­vite the court that that rep­re­sents that she was al­most cer­tainly go­ing to be try­ing to so­cialise with those who were younger than her­self.

“Whatever else it was, to present as a boy was indica­tive of Gemma Watts’ en­tire fail­ing to cope with her own sex­u­al­ity.”

Gemma Watts posed as ‘Jake’, left

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