Facebook blackmailer jailed for rapes

A paedophile has been jailed for 16 years after admitting rape, despite being thousands of miles away when the offences happened.

Paul Leighton, 32, from Seaham, County Durham, created up to 40 fake Facebook profiles to befriend teenagers in the UK, Canada, the US and Australia.

He tricked them into sending him naked selfies, then blackmailed them into abusing young relatives.

He had earlier admitted a total of 21 offences at Newcastle Crown Court.

The court heard 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 he would post videos of the abuse online if he did not do more.

The boy has since been charged by 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."


FBI investigating

He said 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 court was told.

The FBI is investigating other victims who may have been targeted.

Leighton, from Malvern Crescent in Seaham, was arrested in November by police investigating reports he had exchanged indecent images.

When officers examined his phone they found evidence that as many as 100 children in North America had been abused.

Leighton admitted three counts of rape as well as other offences, including blackmail, causing a child to engage in sexual activity, making indecent photographs of a child and sexual assault.

Paul Reid, prosecuting, said of Leighton's conduct with the Florida teenager and his niece: "This was a campaign of rape.

"The defendant has pleaded guilty to the rape of this baby 4,000 miles away as he was using (the uncle) as an accessory."


Cannabis user

Mr Reid said the case involved the "utterly appalling abuse of many children".

Andrew Rutter, mitigating, 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."

Det Sgt Peter Morgan of Northumbria Police, which led the investigation, said: "Leighton was calculated and sophisticated in his approach to this abuse and his lack of thought for his victims is spine-chilling."

Gary Buckley, of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said the offences made for "chilling reading" for any parent.

He added: "We were able to successfully prosecute Leighton for rape by proving that he was as guilty in instigating the overseas offending as he would have been committing the crime itself."