- Francis Knight, 31, hacked into or cloned teenage girls’ Facebook accounts
- Used them to pose as a girl and contact young boys online, court heard
- One innocent girl whose account Knight hacked forced to change schools
- Knight admitted contacting around 250 young boys over two years
- ‘Calculated and artful’ former Tesco worker jailed for 16 months
A paedophile stole teenage girls’ identities from Facebook and used them to persuade boys as young as nine to perform sex acts for him.
‘Manipulative’ Francis Knight, 31, who befriended his victims by posing as girls whose accounts he had either hacked or cloned, contacted as many as 250 children online, a court heard.
As Knight, from Portsmouth, was jailed for 16 months, it emerged one girl whose Facebook account he hacked was forced to change schools because of the stigma of the case.
The cases of six victims, aged from nine to 13, were outlined at Portsmouth Crown Court.
But Knight, described as ‘calculated and artful’ by a judge, admitted he had contacted around 250 youngsters over a period of two years.
Even after the former Tesco worker had been arrested and charged he carried on offending, the court heard.
Prosecutor Jane Terry said Knight would send friend requests, under cloned identities, over Facebook to a group of people who knew each other.
She added that he wanted to lull his victims into a false sense of security by leading them to believe they had mutual online friends.
The court heard Knight even made some boys perform sex acts with friends while he watched via a webcam, all the while pretending he was a girl.
Judge John Dixon jailed Knight for 16 months after he admitted 18 charges of inciting boys aged under 14 to engage in sexual activity, and making indecent images of children.
Judge Dixon said: ‘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, you then went on to commit a further eight offences whilst on bail.
‘It is difficult to assess the worst aspect. The deception certainly left the victims ashamed of themselves, and their parents distressed and upset,’ Judge Dixon added.
He said Knight was a ‘manipulative individual’ with a predilection for young children.
Parents of some of the boys sobbed as they heard evidence of what Knight forced their children to do on camera.
One mother was so distressed she had to leave the courtroom.
Detectives from a specialist paedophile unit interviewed all those who had been contacted by Knight.
Around half were from Hampshire with the rest from Manchester.
Detective Sergeant Richard Wheeler, of Portsmouth CID, said it had been a long and complex operation, with officers sifting through vast amounts of technical data in order to identify victims.
He said: ‘It should not be forgotten that the effect of this offending can be both damaging and long-lasting.
‘I would like to praise the children who have shown courage throughout this investigation and provided evidence to form the basis of the prosecution case.’
By Kerry McDermott