'Vile' paedophile who blackmailed victims into abusing other children jailed for 16 years
A paedophile who tricked scores of youngsters across the world into sending him nude selfies then blackmailed them into sexually abusing young relatives on camera has been jailed for 16 years.
Remorseless Paul Leighton, who created up to 40 fake Facebook profiles to befriend teenagers in the UK, Canada, the US and Australia, admitted three counts of rape despite being thousands of miles away when the offences happened.
One 14-year-old from Florida was tricked into believing he was talking to a girl, then blackmailed into repeatedly raping his one-year-old niece.
Leighton threatened the teenager that he would post videos of the abuse online if he did not do more.
The boy has since been charged by the US authorities.
Sentencing Leighton to 16 years with a six year extended licence, Judge Robert Adams told him: "You have effectively destroyed the lives of these people against whom you made these threats."
The judge ruled Leighton was "clearly dangerous" and posed a risk to children in the UK and abroad.
Leighton blackmailed two British teenage girls and also sexually abused a nine-year-old girl living in the north east of England.
The FBI is investigating other victims Leighton may have targeted.
Leighton (32) from Malvern Crescent, Seaham, County Durham, was arrested in November by police investigating reports he had exchanged indecent images on Facebook.
When officers examined his phone they found evidence that as many as 100 children in North America had been abused.
The spray-painter appeared at Newcastle Crown Court where he was sentenced for blackmail, raping a child under 13, causing a child to engage in sexual activity, making indecent photographs of a child, sexual assault, possessing cannabis, distributing indecent images of a child and possession of an indecent video.
Paul Reid, prosecuting, said of Leighton's conduct with the Florida teenager and his niece: "This was a campaign of rape."
He added: "The defendant has pleaded guilty to the rape of this baby 4,000 miles away as he was using (the uncle) as an accessory."
Mr Reid said the case involved the "utterly appalling abuse of many children".
Leighton set up multiple fake profiles of young girls on Facebook, then joined groups for teens.
He would make contact with them and get them to send indecent photos of themselves.
Leighton then used those images to blackmail them into attacking younger relatives, telling them they faced exposure to friends, family and schoolmates if they did not comply.
The paedophile even threatened the teens that he would go to the police if they did not do as he said, the court heard.
He threatened the boy in Florida, saying: "Block me, I immediately post them (the images). Do you want that? Do everything I say to her or I will."
Leighton also trapped a 13-year-old girl in Tennessee and forced her into having sex with her older brother.
She begged Leighton to delete the pictures she had sent him, but he refused.
The judge was told the brother has now been charged with incest and rape.
Andrew Rutter, defending, said Leighton was a cannabis user and had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.
He added: "He protests it was not for sexual gratification but because it gave him a feeling of power to exercise the utmost control over other individuals."
Outside court, Detective Sergeant Peter Morgan said it was the worst case of his career.
"He has victims in this country, America, Canada and Australia and there may be dozens more who have not yet reported abuse to the authorities," he said.
The detective said the offending left an impact on his team but Leighton showed no remorse.
He added: "He was calculated and sophisticated in his approach to this abuse and his lack of thought for his victims is spine-chilling."
Superintendent Michael Barton, the force's digital forensics lead, said the case showed the dangers of young people speaking to strangers online.
"Unfortunately we live in a world where sick, vile creatures like Paul Leighton take advantage of young children using the internet," he said.
Gary Buckley, of the CPS, said the offences made for "chilling reading" for any parent.
He said: "The CPS was also able to successfully prosecute Leighton for the serious of rape, proving that he was as guilty in instigating the overseas offending as he would have been committing the crime itself."
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