May 2012

Norton man who groomed girls online gets 6 years

A SEX offender who groomed a string of underage girls online has been jailed for six years.

Among the 500 to 600 females contacted by loner Mark Thomas Arthur over the internet, he committed a series of sex crimes against eight Teesside schoolgirls.

The 31-year-old offered them money, alcohol and phone top-ups to persuade them to send indecent pictures of themselves.

He took photographs of his sexual activities with one vulnerable victim and later threatened to post the explicit pictures online. Some of the other victims did not turn up to arranged meetings. One refused his offer of £200 for sex.

Using social media like Facebook and MSN Messenger, he used false names and ages to pose as a younger man.

He took girls’ phone numbers from their Facebook profiles, sent them texts and gained their trust, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield yesterday.

He met some of the teenage victims, promising them money and other gifts in return for sexual activity, Teesside Crown Court heard.

He took photographs of his sexual activities with one vulnerable victim and later threatened to post the explicit pictures online. Some of the other victims did not turn up to arranged meetings. One refused his offer of £200 for sex.

He used eight Facebook accounts under various names – “Naughty Means Credit For Cash” for one – and sent almost 1,400 messages.

The crimes only came to light when one of the victims’ close friends reported the matter against the girl’s wishes, said PC Chris Turner today.

He said: “We would never have known about him otherwise and he would have continued to target young girls and exploit them.”

The court was told how the girls felt ashamed, degraded and embarrassed. One said: “I feel used and dirty. I find it scary that someone can just talk to me over the internet and persuade me to do whatever he wanted.”

Another said she felt stupid because she’d heard and read of such activity in the news.

Police seized two mobile phones and a laptop containing indecent photos of children from Arthur, of Ashton Road, Glebe, Norton.

He admitted 20 charges – 10 of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, six of meeting a child following sexual grooming, three of sexual activity with a child and one of possessing indecent images of children. He was of previous good character.

Christopher Knox, defending, said it was consensual, there was no coercion and Arthur was remorseful. He said the warehouseman was “not terribly social”, could chat to girls online but was “gauche” face to face.

He added: “You have here a rather isolated boy living at home with his parents. They are horrified. This is not a young man who’s got a fascination with young children.”

Judge Tony Briggs jailed Arthur for six years. Arthur was given a sexual offences prevention order, was banned from working with children and will be on the sex offenders’ register - all indefinitely.