An aspiring barrister who used online gaming accounts to befriend almost 150 children and incite them to commit sexual acts on camera has been jailed.
Owain Thomas, 29, of Pontypridd, used nine Facebook profiles and three gaming accounts, persuading some of his 146 victims with gaming credits.
He was arrested after he asked a group of young boys aged between seven and 14 to expose themselves at a playground.
He was jailed for 10 years at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court on Friday.
Judge Richard Twomlow said he will serve an extra five years on extended licence and described him as “persistent” and “a significant risk to the public”.
He pleaded guilty to what police described as an “unprecedented” 158 child sex charges at an earlier hearing.
The charges included causing or inciting children to engage in sexual activity, and watching sexual activity, possessing indecent photographs and distributing indecent photographs.
The court previously heard the Aberystwyth University law graduate used software to adopt the persona of children and pretended to be girls or boys as young as eight in order to incite others into sexual activity.
He created fake profiles on popular online games such as Roblox, an online multiplayer game, which has 90 million users worldwide and is marketed at children.
Thomas would then share footage he had recorded with other paedophiles.
He was finally caught after the young boys he targeted at a playground in Ferndale, Rhondda Cynon Taff, told their parents, who then informed police.
After tracing him on CCTV, South Wales Police seized Thomas’s laptops and devices from his home, and he told an officer: “That’s the one I didn’t want you to find”.
Officers discovered 110 hours worth of abuse footage.
His victims – many of them aged under 13 and some as young as nine – were found to be from south Wales, west Yorkshire, south Yorkshire, Northern Ireland, Lancashire and the USA.
Sentencing Thomas, Judge Twomlow told him: “This may have been through a screen but this was a very real experience for your victims.
“You went as far as you could persuade these children to go. You had multiple identities including pretending to be a nine-year-old girl.
“An occurring theme in this case is your persistence. If you couldn’t convince them, you would return and try again.
“Because of the sheer volume and scale of your offences I have no doubt that you are a significant risk to the public and pose a real risk. You are a dangerous offender.”
Roblox was launched in 2006 and is a platform which allows users to create their own online games using a design tool.
According to the company’s website, its most popular games have hundreds of thousands of players a day.
It claims that its popularity among users aged eight and upwards has “exploded”, and that it is “now one of the top online entertainment platforms for kids and teens”.
Players can comment on the games while playing them, and also chat with others.
Paedophile groomed 150 children to engage in sexual activity using online game Roblox
Owain Thomas paid one 10-year-old victim 400 Robux to perform a sexual act while he watched him on a webcam.
An aspiring barrister encouraged 150 children to engage in sexual activity by contacting them online using games like Roblox, sometimes paying them in game currency.
Law graduate Owain Thomas, who was working as a paralegal, paid one 10-year-old victim 400 Robux (in-game currency) to perform a sexual act while he watched him on a webcam.
Speaking at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court, his counsel Andrew Taylor said: “He wanted to be where Mr Cobbe and I are standing – not in the dock.”
Prosecutor Matthew Cobbe referred to the “sheer volume” of offences, which involved 150 children including 60 aged under 13.
The court heard the offending came to light after Thomas approached two children in the street. Police intervened following a complaint from their mother.
Mr Cobbe said the defendant went up to the brothers outside a primary school and said: “I dare you to show me your dicks. Come here and I will show you mine.”
The boys walked away and Thomas approached them again, showing them a sexual image on his phone.
They told their mother, who contacted the police and officers traced the defendant using CCTV and his car number plate.
Police attended his home on November 11 and he cried as he was arrested, saying: “I need help. I know I need help. I can’t go to prison, I won’t cope in there.”
Officers seized devices including his phone and laptop, which contained software allowing him to pose online as someone else and record footage of whoever he was talking to.
At that stage he was found to have incited a number of children to engage in sexual activity, but Mr Cobbe said: “It was several weeks before the full extent of the offending became clear.”
The court heard his former partner found his hard drive under the kitchen sink and that also contained indecent images.
Mr Cobbe said the police viewed 175 hours of footage.
He added: “Analysis demonstrates that the defendant is a determined and committed paedophile.”
The court heard he spent an “extraordinary amount of time using platforms including Facebook , FaceTime, Skype, Minecraft and Roblox to contact children.
Prosecutors said the software he was using allowed him to pretend to be a young child and he pretended to be both boys and girls, using fake names like Jodie Jo Jo, Lily May and Leon.
You can read parents’ concerns abut Roblox here.
He sent a message to one victim saying: “I dare you to show me your thingy. Lol.”
Thomas told children in a group chat: “Let me see me your butts.”
And he said to another victim: “It’s just experimenting. It can be our little secret. No one will know.”
He sometimes pretended to be more than one child in a conversation.
Mr Cobbe said: “The child victim would find himself caught up in contact with multiple people egging him on. It was just this defendant.
“On some occasions he was prepared to pay the child for a sexual act. He used the children’s online game Roblox as a method of persuading the child to get involved.”
The court heard the online game had its own currency called Robux.
He would buy a voucher and give the child the voucher code once the sexual act was completed.
Mr Cobbe said this became so normal for one victim that the child himself started setting a price for the act he was going to perform.
He added when a child refused to expose himself, the defendant showed himself to be “determined” by “piling pressure on and refusing to take no for an answer.”
Mr Cobbe described the indictment as “enormous” and said it covered a period of around 18 months.
He did not read out the victim personal statements, but said they showed the “shock and anger” of parents, including one mother who said she felt like she had failed in her role.
The court heard Thomas was cautioned in October 2012 for possessing indecent images of children.
The 29-year-old from Westfield Close in Pontypridd , admitted 158 counts, including causing or inciting children to engage in sexual activity and distributing indecent images of children.
Mr Taylor said his client had no previous convictions, but accepted: “There was a hidden and dark side to Owain Thomas.”
He drew the judge’s attention to letters from the defendant and his father.
The court heard he was “very isolated” at school, where he learnt to play the harp and enjoyed singing.
He studied law at Aberystwyth University and was planning to sit exams to become a barrister.
He worked for more than one firm in South Wales as a paralegal, but has now lost his job and his partner.
Mr Taylor said the volume and seriousness of the counts was “possibly unprecedented”, adding: “I have not been in a case involving this number of counts and so many victims.
He accepted: “He used pressure, threats and financial incentives to corrupt young people into doing things they otherwise would not have done to satisfy his own depraved sexual needs.”
The barrister suggested his client’s “paedophile interest” was “like a drug”.
He told the court his client has sought help from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation.
Judge Richard Twomlow said he spent an hour and a half viewing the footage and referred to the “sheer scale and nature” of the offending. The case of was adjourned for sentence at a date to be fixed.