A child sex offender from Co Antrim has been jailed for a sustained campaign to solicit indecent images of boys which saw him approach thousands of children.
At Reading Crown Court on January 5, Patrick McDonald, 23, from Crumlin, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison following a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.
Speaking at the court, Judge Grainger said McDonald had targeted “thousands of children”, adding: “The scale of the offending was breathtaking.”
Details of the case were posted on the NCA’s website on January 6.
“The NCA are working with the police to identify and safeguard the children targeted by McDonald, who was also placed on the sex offender’s register for life and put under an indefinite sexual harm prevention order,” the report said.
“McDonald attempted to establish contact with potential victims online using Facebook profiles, posing as fictitious teenage girls.
“If they replied to his first approach McDonald would quickly begin sending sexual messages including explicit pictures of women’s bodies.
“He incited a number of children to send him indecent pictures of themselves and in many cases to engage in sexual activity.
“Following McDonald’s arrest, he admitted to NCA officers he had offended against at least 500 victims, though the real number is believed to be higher.
“He pleaded guilty last year to making indecent images of children and inciting children to engage in sexual acts.
“The NCA has found no evidence he committed contact offences.
“Facebook provided information which assisted with the investigation.”
Martin Ludlow, operations manager at the NCA, commented: “We have identified and brought to justice a prolific offender who has exploited the trust of many, many children. In cases like these their welfare is our paramount consideration.
“We and our partners remain determined to take action against criminals who exploit online tools and apps to abuse children.
“Information and guidance for children and young people from 5 to 18 on staying safe online and in the physical world, as well as information for parents and teachers, is available on our dedicated website - www.thinkuknow.co.uk
“Anyone who is concerned that someone is in immediate danger should call 999. Online grooming can be reported via the Click CEOP button, available via our website - www.ceop.police.uk”
Welcoming McDonald being jailed, children’s charity the NSPCC said he had exploited his victims’ trust for his own sexual gratification.
“Online safety is one of the major 21st century child protection challenges and we know the internet is used as a gateway by abusers to commit hundreds of offences against children each year,” an NSPCC spokesperson said.
“Education is the key to keeping children safe while they are using the internet but we also need to ensure that action is taken by internet companies and by government to protect more children from online grooming and abuse.”
Anyone concerned about a child or young person who may be suffering abuse should call the NSPCC Helpline 24/7 for advice on 0808 800 5000.
The NSPCC’s Share Aware guide gives advice on staying safe online while its Net Aware guide for parents provides information on the social networks, apps and games that children use.
Children and young people can contact Childline anytime on 0800 1111 or access help online at www.childline.org.uk