UP TO 250 children could have been contacted by a paedophile who persuaded boys as young as nine to perform sex acts into a webcam.
Sick Francis Knight, 31, created and also cloned online personas of teenage girls to lure the boys into carrying out his sick demands.
The cases of six victims aged nine to 13 were outlined at Portsmouth Crown Court but Knight, formerly of Eastern Road, Portsmouth, and also Botley Drive, Leigh Park, admitted he’d spent two years indulging his fantasies contacting around 250 youngsters.
The court heard that even after he was arrested and charged the former Tesco worker carried on offending.
Prosecutor Jane Terry said Knight’s modus operandi was to send friend requests, under the cloned identities, to a group of people who knew each other, lulling the victims into a false sense of security as they believed they had friends in common.
Jailing him for 16 months overall, for 18 counts – including inciting children to engage in sexual activity and making indecent images of children – Judge John Dixon called Knight’s actions ‘calculated and artful’.
He added: ‘These incidents caused considerable distress. What’s worse is that in those online exchanges you had with those boys you deceived them with a one-way webcam.
‘In effect you could see them but they could not see you.
‘You were masquerading as teenage girls and, if that was not bad enough, if you had not been served enough of a shock, you then went on to commit a further eight offences whilst on bail, of exactly the same kind.
’It is difficult to assess the worst aspect. The deception certainly left them (victims) ashamed of themselves, and their parents distressed and upset.’
He said Knight was a ‘manipulative individual’ with a predilection for young children.
Parents of some of the boys, from the Portsmouth area, sobbed as they heard evidence of what Knight made their children do on camera.
One mother was so distressed she had to leave the courtroom.
They heard Knight even made some boys perform sex acts with friends for him to watch, pretending he was a girl.
He stole the identity of one teenage girl known to one of the victims by hacking into her Facebook page.
She has now had to change schools because of the stigma attached to what happened, despite being entirely blameless.
Detectives from Netley’s paedophile unit interviewed all those Knight had contacted.
Around half were from Hampshire with the rest from the Manchester area.
Detective Sergeant Richard Wheeler said it had been a long and complex operation carried out with the help of Portsmouth and Hampshire children’s services departments and Greater Manchester Police.
He said they had to sift through vast amounts of technical data to identify and protect the victims.
He added: ‘It should not be forgotten that the effect of this offending can be both damaging and long-lasting. I would therefore like to praise the children who have shown courage throughout the course of this investigation and provided evidence through statements or interviews to form the basis of the prosecution case.’
For advice on keeping children safe online go to hampshire.police.uk/internet/advice-and-information/general/online-safety.