A teenager who threatened and manipulated under-age girls to get them to send him sexual pictures of themselves has escaped being jailed after the charges he faced were changed.
Daniel Crowley had been committed to Warwick Crown Court by Leamington magistrates after pleading guilty to four charges of controlling children, subjecting them to sexual exploitation.
Crowley, 18, of Elliot Drive, Wellesbourne, also pleaded guilty to causing a child to engage in sexual activity and three offences of making indecent images of children.
But after Judge Sylvia de Bertodano asked the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider whether the sexual exploitation charges were the appropriate offences, they were replaced by four further charges of causing children to engage in sexual activity.
She then allowed him to vacate his pleas to the original offences, and he pleaded guilty to the new charges – after which she gave him a three-year community order.
Under the order, he has to take part in a sex offender programme and a rehabilitation activity for a total of 100 days, and he also has to register as a sex offender for five years.
Prosecutor Daniel Wright had said the offences involved five girls aged between 13 and 15 who Crowley had been in contact with after creating social media accounts in false names.
“He asked them to send images of themselves committing sexual acts, and kept them and used them to coerce the girls to send further images.
“He used various identities, sometimes encouraging them to contact other people who were also, in fact, him.
“That enabled him to exercise control over them in a bullying manner, and he also used threats of self-harm if they refused to do as he requested.”
The girls were from various parts of the country, and the police were made aware by a college that someone had been contacting girls and pressuring them to send nude pictures.
The first girl the police spoke to said that when Crowley contacted her in 2016 he asked her how old she was, but she could not remember whether that was when she was 12 or 13.
He asked what underclothes she was wearing, and for her to send a picture, so she sent him one of herself in her pants, at which he asked for more pictures and threatened to kill himself when she refused.
Crowley sent pictures of a female body to her friends, claiming it was her, and when she pleaded with him to stop, he warned her she was ‘not safe,’ so she sent him a naked picture.
Another girl, also 13 when they made contact, exchanged indecent pictures with him through Facebook, and met up with him and engaged in sexual activity, although not intercourse.
Even after the police investigation began and he had been interviewed, he continued to have contact with under-age girls.
As ‘Tom Phillips’ he was in contact with a girl aged 14 or 15 who was also in contact with him as Dan, and she felt pressurised into sending him around 50 pictures of herself.
She had provided pictures to ‘Tom,’ and some were sent back to her from another identity Crowley was using, making it seem he was passing them to other people.
Another girl sent Tom images of her bare breasts, and he threatened that if she did not send more, he would show them to other people, adding that he had shown them to Dan.
Police officers in North Wales spoke to a 14-year-old girl who said Crowley had asked her for images, threatening that he would spread things about her if she did not, so she sent some.
Mr Wright said that when Crowley was arrested his phone was seized, and on it were a number of downloaded indecent images including ones showing penetrative sex acts with toddlers.
Philip Allman, prosecuting at the latest hearing said the mother of one of the girls had made a statement addressing Crowley in which she said: “You have stolen the daughter I had, slowly and systematically.
“She has shut down from all she enjoyed, and she has also been self-harming because of the torment you put her through.”
And the mother of another victim said her daughter had suffered a mental breakdown as a result of what happened to her.
Delroy Henry, defending, conceded: “What he did was cruel, really cruel. It is a sad testament of the technological age we now live in that it was done with such ease.”
But he pointed out that at the time of the offences Crowley ‘was still a child himself,’ and argued that ‘intensive rehabilitation’ was the appropriate punishment.
Sentencing Crowley, Judge de Bertodano told him: “You did what young people are very able to do very easily these days, and that is create a lot of social media accounts.
“But what you used it for was to create accounts in different names and to contact girls, and over the year or so this continued, your contact with them became very serious offences.
“These are really serious offences. These children were between 12 and 15, and they were desperately frightened by what you did. You cruelly abused them over a year-long period.
“This is the nightmare that parents of teenagers face, that their children can be exposed to this type of behaviour online - and that when we believe they are safe in their bedrooms, they are being subjected to sexual manipulation like this.
“If you were an adult, you would be looking at a sentence approaching double figures.
“But I have to treat you as a child. I have to consider what the benefit of sending you to prison today would be, and I don’t think anyone would be protected in the long term if I were to do that.”
But she warned Crowley that if he breaches the order he will be facing a three-year sentence, with a consecutive six-month term for the indecent images.