Northern Ireland man jailed after ‘breathtaking’ scale of grooming revealed
A child sex offender from Co Antrim has been jailed in England for a sustained campaign in which he approach thousands of boys online in a bid to get them to send him indecent images of themselves.
Patrick McDonald (23), from Crumlin, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison at Reading Crown Court following a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation.
Speaking at the court on Friday, Judge Grainger said McDonald had targeted "thousands of children", adding: "The scale of the offending was breathtaking."
The NCA is working with the police to identify and safeguard the children targeted by McDonald, who was also placed on the sex offender's register for life and put under an indefinite sexual harm prevention order.
McDonald attempted to establish contact with potential victims online using Facebook profiles, posing as fictitious teenage girls.
If they replied to his first approach, McDonald would quickly begin sending sexual messages including explicit pictures of women's bodies.
He incited a number of children to send him indecent pictures of themselves and in many cases to engage in sexual activity.
Following McDonald's arrest he admitted to NCA officers he had offended against at least 500 victims, though the real number is believed to be higher.
He pleaded guilty last year to making indecent images of children and inciting children to engage in sexual acts. The NCA has found no evidence that McDonald committed contact offences.
Facebook provided information which assisted with the investigation.
Martin Ludlow, operations manager at the NCA, said: "We have identified and brought to justice a prolific offender who has exploited the trust of many, many children.
"In cases like these, their welfare is our paramount consideration.
"We and our partners remain determined to take action against criminals who exploit online tools and apps to abuse children.
"Information and guidance for children and young people from five to 18 on staying safe online and in the physical world, as well as information for parents and teachers, is available on our dedicated website www.thinkuknow.co.uk.
"Anyone who is concerned that someone is in immediate danger should call 999.
"Online grooming can be reported via the Click CEOP button, available via our website www.ceop.police.uk."