On My Mind Disciples
The leader of an online paedophile ring which drew in four female accomplices - including one from Portsmouth - has been given an indeterminate sentence with a minimum term of nine years.
IT consultant Colin Blanchard, 40, convinced four women - Vanessa George, 40, Portsmouth mum of nine Tracy Lyons, Tracy Dawber, 44, and Angela Allen, 40 - to sexually assault young children and share the images.
Also sentenced alongside Blanchard at Bristol Crown Court were Lyons, who was jailed for seven years and Dawber, who was jailed for four years. Fellow paedophiles George and Allen are already serving prison sentences.
Prosecutors have described the defendants as "one of the most sickening paedophile rings this country has seen''.
Police smashed the gang when a work colleague of Blanchard found child sex abuse images on his computer in June 2009 and called police. The net closed in on the rest when detectives identified nursery worker George, 41-year-old Lyons, community care worker Dawber and ex-prostitute Allen as being the other members.
Blanchard met the women over the internet and convinced them to sexually assault young children and send him the perverted images.
George abused young children at Little Ted's nursery in Plymouth, and Allen and Lyons both assaulted youngsters to please Blanchard. Unlike the other women, Dawber actually met Blanchard and was in a year-long relationship with him. She sexually assaulted a child and allowed Blanchard to take pictures of the abuse on his mobile phone. George was obsessed with Blanchard, telling him she was his ``paedo whore mum'' and sending him eight pictures a week.
Blanchard, George, Allen and Lyons pleaded guilty to a string of charges of sexual assault and making and possessing child pornography. The final member of the ring to be convicted was Dawber, who was found guilty in October after a re-trial.
Mother-of-two George, of Douglass Road, Efford, Plymouth, Devon, and single mother Allen, of Nine Acre Gardens, Bulwell, Nottingham, were given indeterminate prison sentences in December 2009. Blanchard, of Yea Fold, Rochdale, Greater Manchester, pleaded guilty to taking indecent photographs of children, distribution of an indecent image and sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. He had previously admitted 19 other sex abuse charges.
Dawber, of Bedford Road, Southport, Merseyside, was convicted in October of sexual assault, arrangement or commission of a child sex offence and five offences of permitting an indecent image to be taken. Lyons, of Hewett Road, North End, Portsmouth, Hants, pleaded guilty to assault of a child by penetration, sexual assault of a child under 13, causing a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity and three offences of distributing indecent photographs of a child.
A disturbing and accidental discovery by an unsuspecting businessman triggered the investigation that would uncover the warped world of Colin Blanchard and his twisted female companions.
Police followed an online trail which took them from an IT professional in Manchester to the doors of four unsuspecting women across England, including most shockingly a nursery worker in Plymouth.
Blanchard's friend and fellow IT businessman, Noman Ahmed, stumbled across sickening images of child abuse at his company premises in Trafford, Manchester, in June 2009.
Realising that his friend of 10 years had been using the computer, Mr Ahmed contacted police to report the shocking find, while Blanchard was on a business trip to Dubai.
Giving evidence in the trial of Tracy Dawber - the fourth woman to be exposed as a member of Blanchard's paedophile ring - Mr Ahmed said he was "disturbed and shocked'' by the discovery.
He said he was only looking through Blanchard's emails because the computer saved his password and he was seeing if there were any potential business opportunities he could take advantage of.
Greater Manchester Police wasted no time, contacting airport police who swooped on the now-convicted paedophile at Manchester Airport.
Police seized Blanchard's phones and computers, and forensic searches revealed a horde of child abuse images.
"Straightaway the hi-tech crime unit of Greater Manchester Police started to examine the computer, which led to the finding of the images taken by Vanessa George and within 48 hours she was located and arrested,'' said Detective Constable Andrew Pilling, who led the police investigation into Blanchard.
"The following inquiries led to the arrest of Angela Allen, Tracy Lyons and following a visit to him in prison with a series of images, they were found to be from Tracy Dawber, in Southport, who he had met.''
During interviews Blanchard intimated that he had been sent a number of the pictures by a woman he knew as "Vee George'', whom he had met on Facebook.
Greater Manchester Police were able to identify Vee George as Vanessa George - a married mother-of-two and nursery worker from Plymouth - and immediately contacted Devon and Cornwall Police.
"In relation to Vanessa George we found an image of somebody with a T-shirt on with the words 'day nursery','' said Det Con Pilling.
"The images were taken in what appeared to be a church hall. You could see the changing mats and different children, with all different babies.
"It was clear it was somebody who had contact with a significant number of children.
"From her Facebook profile one of her colleagues was seen with a 'Little Ted's Day Nursery' t-shirt, which led to Vanessa George.''
In Manchester, the investigation was developing as a third person identified only as "Ang Bank'' was uncovered - later unmasked as Angela Allen from Nottingham.
In October 2009, Blanchard, George and Allen admitted a string of child sex offences at Bristol Crown Court.
But the paedophile ring continued to grow.
Shortly after the plea hearing, another woman, Tracy Lyons, was arrested and charged with child sex offences.
Lyons, a mother of nine from Portsmouth, later pleaded guilty to two counts of sexually abusing a two-year-old boy.
Weeks later Dawber was arrested and charged. She was the only defendant connected to Blanchard's ring who denied the charges she faced but was convicted by a jury.
"It's unusual and we have never come across such a case, so our surprise that we had a female, and one who works in a nursery, involved was quite amazing,'' said Det Con Pilling.
"And when Angela Allen was found, another woman, and then another woman in Tracy Lyons, and then another one - there was just no precedent in how they got involved and there is still a bit of confusion as to how this man (managed) to convince these women to abuse children.''
Det Con Pilling described Blanchard as being at the centre of the paedophile gang.
"He is probably the key to it. Would they have abused without him? We'll never know. Certainly he's at the centre. He's the one who has them vying for his attention,'' the officer said.
"We know about Angela Allen, Vanessa George - they seem to compete with each other.
"As we know he had a relationship with Tracy Dawber anyway, so she's probably the odd one out because he met her.''
Det Con Pilling said the women were "willing participants''.
"There's certainly no coercion or force,'' he said.
"A little insight came from Vanessa George who said, 'I'll do what you want if you put a ring on my finger'.
"We are looking at women who in some ways were vulnerable. Relationships they didn't want to be in and he offered the jet-set life, which we know is false anyway.
"He portrayed that he had the money and he travelled, so he could offer them a new life.
"With three of them it was through Facebook and certainly there's an introduction to sexual elements and he's introduced the abuse of children.
"We certainly know from one other person that she was contacted by him and as soon as sexual things with children was mentioned she stopped the contact.
"So he's probably been very lucky that straight away three people have responded in a positive way.''
Det Con Pilling added:
"If it wasn't for Noman Ahmed none of this would have come to light and I am quite sure he would have gone on to abuse more children and probably get other people to abuse children.
"So thanks to Mr Ahmed countless children have been protected from sexual abuse.
"Since Blanchard's arrest he's been in custody, so he's got 24 hours a day to think about what's he done.
"I think from the last time we spoke to him, he is slowly coming round to having some understanding as to what he's done and the scale of it and what's going to happen to these children.''