An online predator who sent money and gifts to a girl in exchange for sexual images has been jailed for more than seven years.
Martin Cole, from Cleator Moor, admitted three counts of ‘causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity’, one of ‘causing a child to watch a sexual act’, three counts of ‘making indecent images of children’ and possessing ‘extreme pornography’.
Cumbria Police revealed he was jailed for seven years and three months at Carlisle Crown Court on Thursday, March 9.
*WARNING – contains disturbing information*
The court heard how the 32-year-old had been messaging a young girl between March 18 2020 and June 22, 2020. During this time he had sent her a total of 96 payments via PayPal, totalling more than £1,800.
When officers searched Cole’s phone they found 5,805 illegal images – more than 500 of which were of the child he had been grooming and sending money to.
The payments were often alongside a message to the girl. One read: “Here you go my favourite girl. Hope you are going to buy something nice with it.”
Officers also uncovered evidence that Cole had been sending the girl clothes and choosing dates close to her birthday to send the gifts to reduce the potential to raise suspicion.
Cumbria Police then arrested Cole and interviewed him multiple times – but refused to answer any questions. He would eventually plead guilty to offences in court and must now he must sign the sex offenders register for life, as well as serving more than seven years in prison.
Detective Constable Ryan Parker of Cumbria Police said: “This is a disturbing case which I hope will serve to help everyone better understand the dangers posed by some individuals online.
“In this instance, the family of the victim were completely unaware of the online interactions their daughter was having with a man more than twice her age.
“If you have any suspicions at all that your child or someone you know is being groomed then I urge you to contact the police today so that action can be taken including safeguarding the vulnerable person being targeted.”
It can be difficult to tell if a child is being groomed – the signs aren’t always obvious and may be hidden. Older children might behave in a way that seems to be “normal” teenage behaviour, masking underlying problems.
Some of the signs you might see include:
- being very secretive about how they’re spending their time, including when online
- having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
- having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
- underage drinking or drug taking
- spending more or less time online or on their devices
- being upset, withdrawn or distressed
- sexualised behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that’s not appropriate for their age
- spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.
A child is unlikely to know they’ve been groomed. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. If you’re worried about a child and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations.
If you have concerns regarding online grooming, contact police today. Always call 999 in an emergency.
Otherwise, you can report online at www.cumbria.police.uk/reportit.
You can also phone on 101.
Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.
For more advice on grooming, visit What Parents Need to Know About Sexual Grooming | NSPCC