A pervert who carefully groomed and seduced a vulnerable teenager, coaxing her into twisted sessions of cyber sex, had his sentence slashed by more than a third at the Court of Appeal.
Clifford Whitehead – a man of previous “excellent character” before his fall from grace – made friends with the “lonely and isolated” Belgian schoolgirl via an online chatroom when she was just 12.
The Watford man told her his real age but she “thought it was cool to be friends with an older guy” and the two struck up an initially innocent online rapport.
Whitehead, 45, persuaded her to keep their conversations secret from her family, said Mr Justice King, and the two communicated “almost daily”, swapping details about their personal lives.
But, after several months of careful “grooming”, Whitehead began talking about sex, the court heard, even sending her photos of children in risqué poses with adults, which he persuaded her were quite normal.
Later on he got her to undress in front of a webcam and to touch her private parts for his gratification. He also stripped on camera and masturbated in front of the bewildered youngster, said the judge.
Their bizarre online relationship continued for three years in all.
His schoolgirl victim later became increasingly depressed and distraught, said Mr Justice King, and even resorted to self-harming, although she was still convinced that Whitehead was her steadfast friend.
“The grooming process had worked,” said the judge, who added: “She regarded Whitehead as her best friend.”
But when she reached 17 she finally saw the light, deleting her computer history and severing all contact with Whitehead.
It was only after protracted therapy sessions that she found the courage to tell her family and police about her ordeal, triggering an international warrant and Whitehead’s arrest.
The girl’s life had been “devastated” by Whitehead’s insidious torment, the court heard. She was “haunted”, profoundly traumatised, and felt she had “lost four years of her life”.
Whitehead, of Trevose Way, South Oxhey, received a total sentence of 13 years and two months at Snaresbrook Crown Court in January after he was convicted of 10 offences of indecency with a child.
He was also convicted of further offences of possessing indecent images of children after illicit photos were discovered on his computer by police.
However, Whitehead’s case reached the Appeal Court today (Tuesday) as he challenged his sentence as too harsh.
Mr Justice Sweeney, sitting with Lord Justice Moore-Bick and Judge Peter Rook QC, noted the gravity of his crimes, involving grooming and violating a vulnerable youngster over a three-period.
But Whitehead had presented glowing character references, which spoke of his excellent work ethic, and Mr Justice King concluded that his total sentence was “simply too long”.
The pervert’s jail term was cut to nine years and two months.