County Durham based paedophile, Paul Leighton, has been arrested and jailed for 16 years for child sex abuse charges. He had never met his abuse victims. This particular case demonstrates the need of the evolution of understanding in the law for online child sex abuse.
Lead Abuse solicitor, Peter Garsden, explains the case and provides advice on how to keep the children in your life safe online.
The Paul Leighton Case
Paul Leighton committed his crimes from Seaham in County Durham, but the crimes occurred across the globe in the US, Canada and Australia. He admitted in court to having between 30 and 40 Facebook accounts in order to groom over 100 children into sending him naked or sexual images of themselves.
Once in possession of the images, he would then use them to blackmail the children into becoming abusers themselves. Leighton told children that if they did not film themselves performing sexual acts, often on younger siblings or relatives, then he would share their previously sent explicit pictures with their friends and family.
Leighton admitted to: sexual assault on a girl under 13, making and distributing indecent images, causing or inciting sexual grooming and blackmail. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison with a 6 year extended licence.
A detective working on the case, Peter Morgan said, “He was calculated and sophisticated in his approach to this abuse and his lack of thought for his victims is spine-chilling.”
Convicting Abuse Abroad
Leighton’s crimes were complex. His ability to groom online gave him the freedom to access children from all over the globe. As a result, police were forced to arrest him for crimes committed in countries other than the UK.
Crimes committed abroad by those in the UK are not new in child abuse cases. Douglas Slade, who was jailed in 2016 for a multitude of counts of child sexual abuse, was accused of his offences in the Philippines but was sentenced in the UK. In 2015, Gary Glitter was jailed for sexual offences he committed in Vietnam as part of Operation Yewtree.
Child Abuse Online
The difference between this case and that of Slade and Glitter was that Leighton had never actually met the survivors of his abuse. Leighton’s case demonstrates not only the way criminal law has had to develop in order to cope with the new ways sex offenders behave, but it also highlights the need for vigilance from parents in online security for their children.
1 in 5 children aged 8 to 11 years old has a social media profile and 1 in 4 children are reported to have experienced something upsetting on social networks.
Online Safety Guidance For Parents
It is important to remember that not all children will come across dangers online and that cases like that of Paul Leighton are rare. It is also important to be aware of internet safety guidelines. The NSPCC provide excellent advice on how to help children stay safe online.
The NSPCC recommend:
- Talk about safety online
- Explore the online world together
- Agree rules about what is appropriate and what is not
- Manage your family’s settings and accounts by altering the parental controls
“The fact that rape can be committed without any sexual intercourse taking place between the offender and his victim shows how the internet can be used to commit very serious crimes.”
“The way in which the law has to catch the many different ways in which cybersex crime is committed shows how manipulative calculating and deceitful cyber criminals have become.”
“The internet is a fantastic place for opportunities in learning and socialising, but it is so important for parents to educate themselves on the potential risks and how to minimise the possible dangers.”