Febuary 2010

Bristol church youth worker abused four boys and boasted about it on the internet

A “cold and calculating” paedophile befriended families of young boys at a church so he could sexually abuse them and then bragged about it on the internet.

Owen Baxter’s victims were as young as four and included some for whom he had babysat as a member of St Matthew’s Church, in Kingsdown.

Bristol Crown Court heard that after abusing the children he would go to online chatrooms and boast about his behaviour and exchange child pornography.

Families of the victims described Baxter, 23, as “cold and calculating” and said he had boasted about his crimes online as if their children were “pieces of meat”. Police officers on the case described him as a dangerous predatory paedophile.

Baxter, of Zetland Road, Redland, pleaded guilty to 23 charges, dating from when he was himself aged under 16, in 2001, until 2008. His offences included making more than 8,000 indecent photographs and videos of children, and distributing more than 3,000 images and videos of children via the internet. He admitted sexually assaulting and taking indecent images of four boys aged between four and 12. The abuse took place at his home, at other houses in the city and at the church in Clare Road.

Baxter, who has Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism affecting social interaction – was remanded in custody before he is sentenced on Monday.

Families of his victims, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, wept in the public gallery as they heard what he had done.

Brendon Moorhouse, prosecuting, said Baxter had still been a boy himself when he first abused a younger child. He said: “The first complainant was aged 10 when Baxter started to see him, and described him as somewhat weird. Behind all this he would go onto the internet. Baxter boasted about what he had done.”

In one online chat Baxter said: “If you wanna do something, make sure the kid isn’t going to talk.”

In another he talked about a church group where he volunteered to look after children. He said: “One boy was in my lap, he kept saying loudly ‘Stop touching me’ but I said no. His mum knows me but she doesn’t know me. If she did I would probably not see him again.”

One paedophile he chatted to online has since been convicted of abusing his own son, the court heard.

Mr Moorhouse said: “Chat logs show Owen Baxter encouraging him to abuse his son. He was seeking to arrange a meeting to abuse [the boy] and there was talk of a camping outing.”

The court heard statements from victims’ mothers, who expressed guilt and shame for not realising their children were being abused. One said: “It was me that had invited him to babysit. The cold-blooded and methodical abuse was planned, promoted online and reported on.”

The mother of another boy said: “The thought that Owen Baxter had befriended us with the express intention of getting his hands on [my son] horrifies me. He was discussed in internet chatrooms as if he were a piece of meat. The sense of failure I have as a parent is all consuming.”

The court heard Baxter took photographs of the abuse as it happened, but blurred out his own face. He warned one victim if he told he would get them into trouble.

Baxter would collect thousands of pictures of abuse and post them for others to see on peer-to-peer file servers.

When he was arrested, Baxter claimed he had suffered sexual abuse himself, the court was told. But the Post understands that while these claims were investigated, no charges were ever brought.

Michael Cullum, defending, said Baxter had sought help from professionals, including the Bridge Foundation charity. Mr Cullum said that if Baxter’s behaviour went untreated there was “a significant risk of future harm”. He added: “The timing of his first seeking help was before he was arrested. Since he has been receiving help, there’s been nothing further.”

Afterwards Rev Mat Ineson, vicar at St Matthew’s Church for three-and-a-half years, said: “It’s awfully sad and it’s been a difficult case for everybody involved, particularly the victims.”