A NATIONWIDE investigation into 120 potential victims of online grooming led by Dyfed-Powys Police has resulted in a 43-year-old man being jailed for 10 years.

The force conducted an intense digital investigation into social media profiles set up by Neil Antony Derrick Payne, of Bronwydd in Carmarthen, who acted as a teenage boy online with the sole aim of inciting young girls into sexual activity.

Payne was arrested after a teenage girl reported making contact with a man who had been purporting to be a 17-year-old boy on Facebook. Computers were seized from his home and were examined by the Digital Communications and Cyber Crime Unit (DCCU).

A forensic examination of devices seized from Payne revealed that he had set up 11 different profiles over Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Oovoo, Snapchat and Kik. His pseudo profiles featured photographs of young males aged 15-17 years.

Payne would trawl the internet for contacts and target friends of friends. Using these fake accounts, he had been sending friend requests to girls across the UK for around 18 months. On Facebook alone, 172 people accepted his friend request.

Images, videos and text conversations were extracted, as well as information from social media profiles which were used to identify how many of the girls behind the 500 usernames were potential victims.

A DCCU analyst formatted 15,000 lines of text over each social media network into individual conversations between Payne and the girls he befriended. She quickly established a pattern, with his most frequent conversation opener used 119 times. He would say they had friends in common, or that he had recently moved to the area and wanted to meet people.

Detective Sergeant Mathew Davies, of the Police Online Investigation Team, said: “His intent was to send a mass message out to young girls using these regular lines. He was in contact with hundreds of people over his various accounts – starting off requesting random people as friends, and then working through their friend list to add others.

“Our analyst pulled out conversations with each girl, so even if he moved people to different platforms to chat we could still track what had been said between them. He had a pattern of conversation, and would try to move the girls onto Snapchat or Skype, saying his uncle was lonely and needed friends. He was then pretending to be this boy’s uncle on these accounts.”

An enormous task was undertaken by officers and members of the DCCU to identify from images, videos, text conversations and social media the potential victims of grooming and incitement. Evidence was collated by DS Sian Davies, who oversaw the entire investigation, and over 90 intelligence and safeguarding packages were put together. These were delivered across the UK with the assistance of other police forces.

Detective Inspector Jayne Butler, of Carmarthen CID, said: “In many cases we only had online usernames to go by in trying to find and contact the people we needed to speak to. There were a number of enquiries to try and identify where they lived, with forces across the country helping to make contact with them.”

As the investigation progressed, a report of incitement was made to Dyfed-Powys Police in October 2017, which was linked to Payne. Within two days, he was arrested. He was charged with a total of eight offences – meeting a girl aged under 16 following grooming, five counts of causing or inciting a girl aged 13 to 15 to engage in sexual activity, and two counts of possessing indecent photographs or pseudo photographs of a child.

In December 2017 Payne pleaded guilty to all eight offences at Swansea Crown Court. On Wednesday, January 31, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with a further five years on license.

DI Butler said: “We are pleased with the sentence handed to Payne for these predatory offences. He took on the guise of a teenage boy to specifically target young girls online, gaining their trust before attempting to groom them.

“A complex investigation which spanned numerous other forces has resulted in putting him behind bars, which I hope is some consolation to his victims. This sentence just goes to show that people cannot hide behind pseudonyms to commit what they believe are faceless crimes via social media.

“What is worrying is how willing some young people are to engage with strangers on the internet. I would really like to urge parents of teenagers – male or female – to be aware of who their children are talking to.

“It might be difficult, but please try to find a way to talk to them about the dangers that can be posed on social media.  Please urge them to stop and think if they receive a friend request from someone they don’t know – it might not be the person they say they are.

“We know from just this one investigation that teenagers are willing to accept friend requests from people they don’t know and have never met, which has the potential to put them at risk of harm.”

Dyfed-Powys Police would encourage any victims of sexual offences to have the confidence to come forward and report the offence. All reports are dealt with seriously and sensitively. Reports can be made by calling 101.

For more information on helping to keep your children safe online, visit www.ceop.police.uk or www.parentzone.org.uk

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