An online predator described as “every parent’s worst nightmare” has been jailed for more than seven years.
Martin Cole, 32, sent money and gifts to a girl in exchange for sexualised images, and had thousands more indecent images of children on his phones.
The hotel worker even posed as the fictitious dad of a made-up friend of the schoolgirl and had contact with her mum when suspicions grew.
Cole, of Cleator Moor, Cumbria, pleaded guilty to eight offences.
Police had seized a host of devices from him in June 2020, including a mobile phone.
Cole was released under investigation but in September 2021 he was re-arrested in Workington, while at work, and another phone was seized.
A total of 5,791 illegal images of children, including infants and toddlers, were found on the devices. More than 1,800 of them were classed as the most serious kind.
‘Stole her innocence’
Snapchat images featured a girl aged just 11 or 12 years old with whom Cole had been in online contact during many months, Carlisle Crown Court heard.
She was identified by police who learned Cole had sent her clothing and used PayPal to transfer £1,862 to her on 96 occasions.
“If you send me anything,” Cole had told her, “I’ll get you whatever you want.”
Her mother learned that her daughter had been exploited by Cole on Christmas Eve.
When the girl had tried to cease contact with Cole, he said he knew where she lived and hinted he would track her down if she moved.
“As a parent I feel like I have failed my daughter,” her mother said in a statement.
“This man managed to get to my daughter without us knowing it. He invaded our home. He invaded my daughter and stole her innocence.”
Cole, of Greystone Place, admitted three counts of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, one of causing a child to watch a sexual act, three counts of making indecent images of children and possessing extreme pornography.
The court was told Cole “struggles to understand the reason for his offending”.
Judge Nicholas Barker told him: “In many ways you are every parent’s worst nightmare, lurking in the shadows of the internet, preying on children in such a way that the parent has no knowledge of you or what you were up to.”
Cole was sentenced to seven years and three months in prison and must sign the sex offenders’ register for life.