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Winsford paedophile posed as model scout to groom victims online

David Harmes
Distinctive bedding in images found on David Harmes' devices, as well as footage of him accidentally filming his face helped police identify him

A "twisted" paedophile who pretended to be a model scout online to sexually abuse children in the UK and US has been jailed for 30 years.

David Harmes, 27, formerly of Winsford, Cheshire, admitted 88 sex offences against 45 children, aged six to 15, between July 2019 and February 2020.

The children were told to perform sex acts which he filmed, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.

Harmes had lured his victims in after spotting them on social media.

Chester Crown Court heard thousands of indecent images and videos were found on his computer, along with a script which he would use during initial interactions on Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat, when he claimed to be working for major clothing brands.

The script said: "I'm Jess and I'm a model scout. We're looking for girls aged 10-14 to help launch our new spring range, and I thought you'd be perfect.

"The online trial takes 10 minutes and if you pass you'll earn £1,200 just for doing it."

'Warped desires'

Over a six-month period Harmes used the name Jess, and other guises to draw his victims in, including Jaden or Alex, or Jadenthelad, Cheshire Police said.

The latest offences began just months after his release from jail in 2019 after serving a sentence for similar sex offences when he pretended to be a pop star to groom children online.

The CPS said he would often persuade his victims, who were all girls except for one boy, to download an app that meant they could video call each other.

He would invariably keep his camera switched off and would use screen capture software to record and retain what appeared on his screen.

Detectives were able to identify him in the images by his distinctive bedding along with footage of him accidentally opening his laptop and filming his face for a few seconds.

After sentencing, Jiro Asafa, of the CPS, said Harmes was a "prolific and dangerous sex offender who played on the hopes and aspirations of children to gratify his warped sexual desires".

"The feelings of the children involved meant nothing to him. If any of them protested, he would threaten to show the videos he had made about them to people they knew."

He said the victims were "dragged into an adult world that they didn't understand and without comprehending what they were being asked to do".

Hand and laptop keyboard
Police are urging parents to make sure they know what their children are doing online

Det Supt Simon Draco of Cheshire Police said the force was keen to "drum home the message" to parents and carers that they need to know what their children are doing online to protect them from predators like Harmes.

Harmes was returned to prison for breaching his sex offender notification order on 8 February 2020.

He pleaded guilty to offences including possessing, making and taking indecent images of children, causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child as well as disclosing private sexual images with intent to cause distress.

As well as his 30-year sentence, he was given a further sexual harm prevention order and must sign the sex offenders' register indefinitely.

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