A local man has been jailed for 13 years for sex offences involving young girls – including children from Eastbourne.
Sussex Police says Ryan Croft, of Rye Street, was sentenced to 18 offences involving girls under the age of 16 after an investigation found his possession and use of a series of indecent images, including images of some of the girls he had contacted.
The 23-year old was sentenced today (Friday, March 2) at Brighton Crown Court after having pleaded guilty to all the offences.
According to police Croft admitted:
• Seven counts of causing and inciting seven girls under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity;
• Two counts of causing and inciting two other girls under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity;
• Three counts of downloading indecent images of children: 72 at Category A, the most serious; 137 at Category B; and 1008 at Category C;
• Three counts of possessing indecent images with a view to distribution - seven at Category A, seven at Category B, and 88 at Category C;
• Three counts of possession of extreme pornography, consisting of a video depicting bestiality and two videos portraying a depiction of rape.
He was ordered to spend the first eight years of his sentence in custody, and a further five on extended prison release licence supervision.
Croft will also be a registered sex offender for life, and was served with a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) to last until further court order, severely restricting his access to young people and computers.
The prosecution followed an investigation by officers from the Sussex Police Complex Abuse Unit, who were alerted by Lancashire Police about his contact with one of the girls.
Detective Constable Chris Smith said, “Croft contacted girls in some cases as himself but he also pretended online to be a girl in her late teens who was a model.
“He befriended more than 2,000 young girls [online], most in their early teens. Some had sent indecent images of themselves.
“Of the nine victims he was charged with, four were from the Eastbourne area and five were elsewhere in the UK.
“Some girls were unidentified and it is also known he contacted girls abroad, as far as the United States and South East Asia.
“He engaged in messaging and Skype to incite them into increasingly sexually explicit exchanges, including indecent acts and exchange of images.
“This was a very complex case in which we had to gain the confidence of vulnerable young girls and their families, all of whom supported the prosecution and were ready to give evidence if needed.
“It is another worrying reminder that young people can be as vulnerable to sexual exploitation online as they can be in direct encounters.
“We do ask all young people and their families to exercise care and caution in online contact. What starts off as an innocent encounter can quickly develop into something much more sinister.
“There is good advice available - see for example the website of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre - CEOP
“And if you have concerns that a young person you know is being exploited in this or any other way, get in touch with us.
“In Sussex you can do that online or by calling us on 101 and arranging to talk in confidence to experienced investigators, who can also help arrange access to further sources of support and advice.”