July 2010

Life sentence for paedophile student who groomed children online

A paedophile student branded a “teacher of sex” by one of his young victims was handed a life sentence on Wednesday, after he admitted systematically grooming children for abuse.

Andrew Byrne was given a backdated jail term meaning he could be eligible for parole in five years time.

However, he was also made the subject of a lifelong restriction order, after a psychologist warned he may attack a child or adult potentially leading to the loss of their life. 

A judge told the sex offender at the High Court in Edinburgh that he was “quite satisfied” that the terms were met for imposing an Order for Lifelong Restriction on him.

Lord Brailsford said a risk assessment carried out on Byrne had said he can be considered as posing a risk of sexual violence to the general public, particularly male and female children.

He told pony-tailed Byrne: “It remains for me to fix the determinate part of the sentence which you require to spend in custody before your can be considered for release.”  The judge ordered that he should serve a minimum term under the order of six years, but backdated it until July 20 last year when Byrne was arrested.

Lord Brailsford said he accepted that Byrne had fully co-operated with the investigating and prosecution authorities since his arrest and that had not only avoided the need for a trial but has helped bring prosecutions in other cases.  The judge told him he would have faced a minimum term of eight years, but for his guilty pleas. 

Under the OLR, any decision to free Byrne will be taken by the Parole Board and, if released, the offender will be kept under supervision for the rest of his life.  

The former Glasgow University microbiology student earlier admitted a total of 32 charges, including four offences of underage sex with girls, indecency, child pornography possession and distribution between 2007 and last year. 

Byrne, formerly of Byres Road, Glasgow, preyed on 19 girls and boys during a 22 month period. But police said they traced almost 250 children in Britain who he had contacted.

The predator contacted children using computers and networking sites and met up with some for sex. Others were encouraged to undress and take part in sexual activity via webcams. 

He was caught after Central Scotland Police launched Operation Defender aimed at snaring online sex offenders. The operation began after a vulnerable 14-year-old girl went missing from home in Clackmannanshire in May last year and it was discovered she had been in contact with a number of males, including Byrne. It was later discovered he met her when she was 13 and had sex with her. 

Many of the child victims of Byrne regularly used computers and accessed social networking sites such as Bebo and MSN. 

Investigators discovered he had targeted 11 girls and eight boys, with the victims ranging in age between eight and 15. When they were arresting Byrne, a total of 591 indecent images of children and child abuse were found on computer equipment along with more than 110 movie files. 

He admitted to police he had downloaded “weird stuff” and added: “I don’t know why I keep doing it.” He admitted downloading sexual images since his sixth year at school.  Byrne met his first victim in September 2007 through the MSN messenger service and got her to carry out sex acts via a webcam as the girl thought they were in “a special relationship”. 

Advocate depute Gillian Wade said the 15-year-old said he “seemed obsessed with sex. She felt as if he was a ‘teacher of sex’.”

Byrne contacted a 13-year-old girl in Manchester and later took photos of her in various states of undress and showing explicit sexual activity. He later shared the images via a computer. 

He also went on to have underage sex with two girls, aged 13 and 15, at his former flat in Bridge Street, in Glasgow, and offered another girl in the city £60 for sex.  Byrne also recorded the abuse of an eight-year-old boy by his 15-year-old cousin from Renfrewshire and appeared to direct them in what to do.

He was also found to have a video clip of two 11-year-old schoolfriends from Leeds with the children performing sex acts while the girl was wearing part of her school uniform. Chat logs recovered from Byrne’s computer showed he had built up a relationship with the boy.  Byrne also travelled to Fife to meet up with a 13-year-old girl and had sex with her. One teenage boy from Lanarkshire stopped contact with him after deciding he was “weird and creepy”.  He also made arrangements to meet up in Dundee with two 13-year-old girl friends, from Angus, but was arrested by police. 

Defence counsel Brian McConnachie QC said Byrne had developed “something of a loner personality” and started accessing pornography, before moving onto child pornography and contacting the children in the offences. 

Area procurator fiscal for Central Scotland Michelle Macleod earlier said: “Andrew Byrne has been convicted of some of the most damaging and disturbing crimes that prosecutors ever encountered.”

Byrne was also put on the sex offenders’ register.