A convicted pedophile posed as a schoolgirl online to incite young boys to send indecent pictures of themselves – he then shared them in an online dark web pedophile ring.
Thomas Morton, 34, was being investigated for possession of indecent images when police stumbled across an app on his phone containing 18 named folders of children.
From there, they found a large number of social media accounts which he was using, posing as a girl aged between 12 and 14, Minshull Street Crown Court heard.
Officers from the GMP Sexual Crime Unit then discovered Morton had been using an encrypted dark web site to chat to a group of pedophiles.
There, they swapped the vile images and discussed tactics on how to get more footage, it was said.
Police identified 14 of the victims targeted – aged between 8 and 15 at the time of the offences – from across the United Kingdom and United States of America.
Morton, of Bury, pleaded guilty to three different indictments: 1: Three counts of making indecent images; one count of distributing indecent images; 17 counts of causing a child to engage in sexual activity; 2: One count of breach of sexual harm prevention order; 3: Three counts of making indecent photographs of children.
Today he was jailed for 10 years with an extended period of six years on licence.
Prosecutor Ben Lawrence told the court that following a seizure of his devices on March 3 2020, an examination took place which revealed the full extent of his offending.
On one Samsung phone they found 18 photos and 86 videos of category A images – said to be the worst type.
They also found 31 still images and 138 videos on category B and 1245 still images and 48 videos of category C.
On the other phone they found 30 still images and 103 videos of category A, 123 still images and 193 videos of category B and 2,338 still images and 70 videos of category C.
In total 238 category A images, 486 category B images and 3,724 category C images were found.
It was said he had tried to snap one of the phones in half as the police gained entry to his house.
“Officer’s also discovered a program with encrypted photo storage, of which there were 18 folders with the names of persons depicted in the indecent photos,” Mr Lawrence said.
“On his other phone he had a large number of social media accounts.
“Intelligence was received that the defendant was posing as a girl aged between 12 or 14.
“In one of the folders on the program, there were a number of pictures taken from a girl’s Facebook profile as well as self-taken indecent images of a child, but not showing the child’s face.
“The defendant would use the profile in order to contact boys.
“Most were teenagers, but some were younger, and he incited them to perform sexual acts and film themselves, made them believe they were talking with a teenage girl and have sexual exchanges on a regular basis.
“The defendant also downloaded a screen recorder app and recorded the children performing the sexual acts.
“The defendant then distributed the images onto the encrypted app ‘Telegram’.
“He distributed these to four like-minded pedophiles.”
The prosecutor told the court that on the app there was a group conversation amongst the pedophiles who discussed targets, shared images and the sort of sexual behaviour likely to get more footage.
The court heard how 14 different boys, from the UK and the US were befriended and groomed by Morton.
He went on to encourage them to send him images of themselves and even advised them to set a timer so they would be able to take the pictures.
Morton then distributed some of the images into the pedophile group.
One of the victim’s targeted was just eight-years-old.
Another two victims were said to be brothers.
Morton encouraged them to ‘sexually abuse each other’, the prosecution said.
Another boy aged 13 was incited to send 100 indecent images, of which 17 were distributed into the group.
One victim of Morton said in a statement: “Finding out that I had been a victim of crime like this made me feel really worried, one of the main things that worried me was that I found out that the police had found images of me and I was so concerned that my friends may see these images, this still concerns me know.
“I can’t believe that someone has done this to me, the person who has done this is a weirdo and it’s made me lose trust when I go online.”
In another statement, a mother of one of the boys said: ”He is my eldest child and only son.
“As a parent you do your utmost to protect your children from harm.
“I feel like I have failed greatly and let my son down.”
Addressing Morton in the statement she said: “You took advantage of my son’s trusting nature, you took his innocence, you encouraged him in sexual activity and to view images when he was still a child.
“Although you may not have physically touched my son you abused him, you have taken advantage of his age, his naivety and good nature. I am worried he could have been physically abused.
“His father still struggled to come to terms with it.
“He finds it awkward to discuss what happened.
“He feels he has been unable to protect him, he questions why he hid away in his room talking to someone like you.
“My son shrugged it off, not recognising that he is a victim.
“I am extremely proud of my son for co-operating with the police.
“He has not spoken to me about what happened and I don’t think he ever will.
“He is embarrassed and feels he has let his parents down.”
Morton was said to have six previous convictions for 28 offences including possession of indecent images of children.
Mitigating, his defence lawyer Stuart Neale said his client received little help to assist with his sexual interest in children after he was released from prison.
“To an extent the defendant has been cast loose,” he said.
“It is acknowledged that those subject to these types of feelings need supervision and controlling and reminding of what’s going on – there he was cast adrift.
“He was in a poor mental state at the time.”