A man from Ellesmere Port who sexually abused a young girl has been jailed.
Derek Smith appeared at Chester Crown Court on Friday 23 June where he was sentenced to 15 years in prison with five years extended license.
The 42-year-old was earlier found guilty to 24 counts, including the possession and taking of indecent images of children, engaging in sexual communication with a child, inciting a child aged 13 to 17 to engage in sexual activity and multiple counts of rape.
The investigation initially began following a report from the National Crime Agency (NCA) which made Cheshire Police aware that a category C indecent image of a child had been uploaded to the internet.
Detectives were able to successfully identify the address of the user who had uploaded the image and on Tuesday 27 July, Smith was arrested, and searches were conducted at two addresses linked to him in Chester and Ellesmere Port.
Officers recovered numerous electronic devices during the warrants, two of which were later found to contain 231 indecent images and videos of children.
Of the images found, 43 were of category A, 74 were of category B, and 114 were of category C.
Cheshire Constabulary’s Online Child Abuse Investigation Team (OCAIT) discovered that 26 of the images recovered were first generation images of a young girl, taken by Smith on his own device.
On Friday 9 September 2022, Smith was charged with nine offences and was released on conditional bail for the case to be heard at court. However, he was not deterred by this and continued his predatory online activity.
Smith, who went by the name “Degsi” on a dating app, engaged in several sexualised conversations with three young girls, aged 13 and 14. He requested inappropriate images of them and encouraged them to commit sexual acts upon themselves.
However, unbeknown to Smith, he was speaking to three adults acting as child ‘decoys’.
In a bid to identify Smith, the decoys arranged a meeting on Wednesday 5 October 2022, using a decoy profile of an adult woman.
Smith was waiting at Cheshire Oaks when he was confronted by the decoys and swiftly arrested by officers.
During questioning, he answered no comment to everything posed to him by officers, even when shown messages that he had sent to the three different decoys.
A further seven sexual charges were secured against Smith, and he was remanded into custody.
As detectives were working to bring the extent of his crimes to light, the victim pictured in the indecent images (recovered from Smith’s devices), felt able to disclose her abuse at the hands of Smith.
While he was still on remand, Smith was arrested again and subsequently charged with eight more offences, including multiple counts of rape and sexual activity with a girl aged between 13 and 17.
Smith pleaded not guilty to all offences, however, after listening to the extensive evidence gathered against him, a jury found him guilty on all charges on Wednesday 17 May 2023.
Detective Constables Louise Murphy and Abi Axon, from Cheshire Constabulary’s Online Child Abuse Investigation Team, attended Smith’s sentencing and said: “The long list of offences Smith subjected the victim to is nothing short of horrific.
“He has shown no consideration for the victim at any stage, refusing to admit to the extremely serious sexual offences he committed and making the victim give evidence at court.
“Being subjected to the court process can be a stressful experience for victims in cases involving sexual offences, particularly when they are so young.
“We would like to praise the victim for the bravery shown in disclosing what Smith subjected her to and how she conducted herself whilst the trial was ongoing.
“On top of this, he also possessed more than 230 indecent images of children for his own sexual gratification – behind each of these images there is a child being sexually abused.
“We hope the fact that Smith is now behind bars, where he can no longer sexually exploit young girls, gives the victim and her family some closure.
“However, they will continue to receive the help and support they need to move forward with their lives.”
In addition to the custodial sentence Smith was ordered to sign the sexual offenders’ register and comply with a sexual harm prevention order for life.
Detective Sergeant Dave Walton, of the Online Child Abuse Investigation Team, said: “Sexual abuse is an unforgivable crime, and this is a particularly distressing case.
“I would like to thank the officers involved in this complex investigation for all their hard work in unravelling the extent of Smith’s offending and gathering the required level of evidence to secure convictions for all 24 offences.
“Smith’s attempts to engage with children online highlights the need for parents and guardians to warn their children of the dangers of communicating with people via social media, to check that they are using those applications safely and to keep an eye out for any warning signs of sexual exploitation.
“I hope that Derek Smith’s convictions and sentencing encourages anyone who has been subjected to similar offending to report it to the police.
“They should feel confident that they will receive the help and support they need from our specialist officers and other support agencies we work alongside.
“All victims will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, and any allegations will be taken extremely seriously and thoroughly investigated, with the wishes and the needs of the victim as our main priority.”