ONLINE grooming is happening at ‘unprecedented levels’ as social media platforms allow children to interact with strangers online, a senior police officer has warned after a ‘sexual predator’ was jailed for 17 years for luring a vulnerable teenager to Jersey and raping her.
Shay Bester (47) first met his autistic victim in an online chat room when she was a teenager, grooming her over a six-month period before buying her a one-way flight from London to Jersey.
The girl had been lonely and vulnerable, having spent increasing amounts of time at home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, becoming depressed and isolated, the Royal Court heard yesterday.
Crown Advocate Matthew Maletroit, prosecuting, said: ‘She desperately needed support and someone to talk to, and in that context she engaged with the defendant online.’
Once she arrived in the Island, Bester plied his victim with vodka and took her to his flat in St Helier, where he raped her. His victim spent 17 days at the flat, during which time she was raped again, sexually assaulted and coerced into writing a letter giving consent for the way she had been treated.
Following Bester’s sentencing, Detective Superintendent Alison Fossey said: ‘Online grooming is taking place at unprecedented levels and only concerted action will help prevent this abuse taking place.’
Det Supt Fossey said it was ‘vital’ that parents and young Islanders knew how to stay safe online.
Online spaces provided strangers with the ‘opportunity to initiate contact with children, enabling both online and contact offending’, she said.
Det Supt Fossey added: ‘Social media and gaming platforms allow children to interact with strangers online and increase the risk of technology-assisted grooming. Without moderation and safeguarding mitigations in place on platforms used by significant numbers of children, like Facebook Messenger and Instagram, the police’s ability to protect children is reduced.’
Bester’s predilection for young girls was evidenced, Advocate Maletroit said, by the many indecent images – more than 2,500, including both still images and video clips – found on two laptops, a mobile phone and a hard disk seized from his flat.
Bester forced his victim to pose for indecent images that were later shared with members of an online group.
Yesterday, the court was shown CCTV footage of Bester slapping the girl in a St Helier car park and further footage – from the same day, of the victim crying in distress with her mother, who was present when police officers called at Bester’s flat and arrested him.
While under investigation, Bester sent a text to the victim using a new phone, claiming to be a States police officer wanting to discuss the case.
Summing up the prosecution case, Advocate Maletroit said: ‘This was deeply abhorrent conduct involving a victim who was an autistic girl, using violence and coercion to facilitate horrific sexual offending, with consequences that are likely to affect her for the rest of her life.
‘Her first experience of sexual activity was to be raped – she has suffered panic attacks, distressing recollections and vivid flashbacks.’
Advocate Ian Jones, defending, said that although Bester continued to deny the offences, he eventually expressed remorse for what had happened to the girl in a letter that he had submitted shortly before the sentencing hearing.
Bester received a total sentence yesterday of 17 years – 15 for the rapes, trafficking and assaults, as well as two consecutive years for indecent images.
Commissioner Sir John Saunders, who was sitting with Jurats Jerry Ramsden, Robert Christensen, Steven Austin-Vautier, Alison Opfermann and Michael Berry, referred to the ‘extremely severe’ effect on the victim.
‘It can only be hoped that at some stage she will recover and be able to get some normality back into her life, but it’s by no means certain she ever will,’ he said.
The court imposed a restraining order forbidding Bester to contact the victim, as well as placing him on the Sexual Offenders Register for 20 years and restricting his online activity.
Bester was described as a ‘sexual predator, who targeted a vulnerable young female, in order that he could fulfil his own sexual fantasies’ by States police following his conviction. Speaking after Bester’s sentencing, Detective Constable Charles Vibert said he hoped the sentencing offered the family involved ‘some form of closure’.
He added: ‘Bester targeted a vulnerable young female, in order that he could fulfil his own sexual fantasies. We are committed to investigating and prosecuting all sexual offenders and want to assure victims that there are a number of agencies who are able to offer support and guidance through all stages of the criminal justice process.’
An NSPCC spokesperson said: ‘Bester exploited online platforms to groom his teenage victim and then lured her to Jersey to sexually abuse her. Child sexual abuse can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on victims and we hope the girl in this case is getting all the support she needs so that she can move forwards with her life.’
A number of agencies offer advice and support to those who have been affected by serious crime, including sexual offences and exploitation:
– Jersey Domestic Abuse Support is an independent service developed to protect and support victims of domestic abuse who are at risk of significant harm: email JDAS@gov.je or call 880505.
– The Sexual Assault Referral Centre at Dewberry House provides expert independent and confidential support to victims of sexual abuse: Call 888222.
– Jersey Action Against Rape provides and maintains a supporting framework for survivors and their families: 482801.
– Jersey Women’s Refuge offers help and support for victims of domestic abuse: 0800 7356836.
– Victims First Jersey is a free and independent service offering confidential support to victims and witnesses of crime: Call 0800 7351612.
Reports can also be made to Child Exploitation and Online Protection at: ceop.police.uk/Safety-Centre/
Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or through the Childline website, where there are resources and advice on how to stay safe online. Adults with concerns about a child can phone the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 8005000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the NSPCC website.