‘Devious’ pervert caught after phone with picture of naked schoolgirl was found on bin

Damien Spratley has been jailed for three years
Damien Spratley has been jailed for three years

A pervert who launched a "nationwide trawl" for underage girls was tracked down after his mobile phone was found in South Tyneside.

"Devious" Damien Spratley used a fake profile picture and alias as he searched Playstation games and social networking sites, enticing more than 200 youngsters, aged as young as 12, to engage in sexual chat and exchange explicit pictures online.

Newcastle Crown Court heard Spratley was arrested again after a worker found a mobile phone lying on top of a bin in Hebburn and discovered that, as well as selfies of the defendant and photographs of his motorbike, it contained a picture of a naked nine year old girl.

The horrified finder contacted the police, who tracked down Spratley and arrested him.

The court heard his victims spanned the country, from Scotland to the south of England.

The 30-year-old loner was jailed for three years and ten months for offences of inciting children to engage in sexual activity as well as making and possessing indecent images of children, which he admitted.

Spratley, of Blackhill Crescent, Gateshead, must also sign the Sex Offenders Register and abide by a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for life.

Prosecutor Ros Scott Bell told the court: "This was a nationwide trawl by the defendant. His modus operandi was shown in the chat logs.

"My fair estimate is that in excess of 200 girls had been engaged in chat. All, or near all, are underage, some telling him they were 12, 13 or 14. He persisted and ,asked them for photographs of themselves and spoke to them in a sexual way.

"He had created a fake profile and chosen a picture of a attractive looking boy, who was similar to his victim's age. He appeared to be relentless."

The court heard Spratley first came to the attention of the police in August 2014 when one of his young victims, who met him through a Playstation 3 game, told her parents what had been going on.

Spratley was arrested and his laptop computer was seized when his home was searched.

He was granted bail and investigations revealed the computer contained over 150 indecent images of children.

The court heard Spratley was arrested again in February 2015 as a result of the images that had been found.

He initially told officers he did not possess a mobile phone but when he was searched the detectives found he did have a handset.

He was granted bail again and investigations of the device revealed it contained over 100 further indecent images of children.

Spratley was arrested again after a worker found another mobile phone in Hebburn and was bailed while the found phone was interrogated by experts.

It was found to contain more than 50 indecent images of children, mingled amongst innocent selfies and snapshots.

Judge Tim Gittins said Spratley behaviour was "devious and persistent" and told him: "You were clearly engaged in a campaign of seeking to be in contact with girls over various social media devices, who were often underage, under 16 and in fact well under 16, between 12 to 14."

Tom Moran, defending, said Spratley left school at a young age as he was bullied about his stutter and has lived an isolated life.

Mr Moran said: "He spent far too much time on the internet, with all the options that presents to do foolish things, particularly foolish sexual things.

"The court can be confident there was no real sign of it progressing beyond his bedroom."