A 22-year old man who used Facebook and other social networks to groom and abuse young girls has been jailed for a minimum of 45 months after being sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court on Thursday.
Blaine Dalton from Bestwood Park pleaded guilty to one count of sexually assaulting a girl aged 13 and over and five counts of causing or inciting girls under and over the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity (charges which relate to the primary victim and four other girls).
In addition to serving a minimum of three years and nine months in prison, Dalton must also sign the Sex Offenders’ Register indefinitely.
Investigating officer, Detective Constable Chris Taylor, said: “In a bid to groom potential victims, Dalton had set up multiple Facebook profiles, claiming to be a 15- or 16-year-old boy. He would attempt to add young teenage girls as ‘friends’ on the social networking site.
“If they accepted his ‘friend’ request, Dalton would then have access to their profile and friend list. By the time he was stopped, Dalton had built thousands of online contacts, mainly young girls, using this tactic.”
Primary victim, Amy*, from Nottinghamshire, was 13-years-old when she began speaking to Blaine Dalton on Facebook messenger after he sent her a friend request on the social networking site in 2012, and she accidentally added him. Contact escalated from online chat to meeting in person and Dalton sexually assaulted Amy in Nottingham City Centre in September 2012.
“He lied and wormed his way into my life, probably in the same way he did with lots of other girls,” says Amy. “Looking back I was a shy, awkward 13-year-old and he seemed to know all the right things to make me feel special. Blaine abused my trust then abused me physically. I relive what he did to me every day.”
Jenny*, Amy’s mother, has had many sleepless nights “going over what happened and how frightened she must have been”. “Our family life has been turned upside down by this man,” she adds.
“We thought we had taken enough steps to protect Amy, and had warned her about the dangers of predators on the internet, but we were naïve to how devious these people are.”
Amy is especially angry that Dalton didn’t admit his guilt until a court hearing in November 2014. She said: “He had a normal life for two years as an ‘innocent’ man throughout the police investigation and court proceedings. But in the weeks and months after the attack, I fell apart emotionally. I lost my confidence to go outside, my access to the internet and my reputation to some extent.
“I was bullied at school, with people shouting abuse and calling me a liar. Most of my friends turned their backs on me; not believing that I was telling the truth. Losing them was especially hard and I wasn’t sure whether I could go on with my life. I lost a lot of weight from the anxiety and stress.
Amy’s grades also suffered in the wake of what happened with Dalton. A former top-scoring student with good predicted GCSE grades she became withdrawn and failed her mock exams. “I’ve had a massively difficult time, but with the help of my family and counselling I feel stronger now. I’ve started retaking my exams and am getting much better results again,” she explains.
She is determined to rebuild her life and become a police officer one day to “protect people from criminals like Blaine”. “Amy’s life was on hold for two years, but she has stayed strong and is starting to come out the other side and move on,” says her mother. “Part of that is down to the support we’ve had from police and specialist counsellors during the investigation who have gone above and beyond to help Amy and Dalton’s other victims.”
Amy hopes her story will encourage other young people to be careful online. “Don’t accept friend requests from anyone you don’t know; people aren’t always who they say they are,” she warns. “Abusers want you to stay silent through shame and fear so they can carry on, but you should tell an adult that you trust if you are being pressured to do or say things you don’t want to.”
Blaine Dalton manipulated his victims, “taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet” explains DC Taylor. “Many girls he was grooming deleted him as a contact when he started making suggestive comments, but didn’t report what he had done. This gave Dalton the opportunity to move on to target others. It also lost potential evidence against him, as deleting a contact on Facebook removes all traces of past messages from them.
“If young people are concerned about inappropriate messages, being asked to do something that makes them uncomfortable, screen-grab the conversation and report that person to a trusted adult.
“The Child Exploitation Online Protection agency also has its own Facebook page, Click CEOP, which gives ways to notify the authorities and lots of online safety information. I would urge parents and young people who use Facebook to ‘like’ the page and bookmark the web address.”
*Amy is not the victim’s real name. Jenny is not the mother’s real name. Neither identity can be revealed for legal reasons.