June 2006

Internet paedophile jailed after police web sting

An internet paedophile who was trapped as he tried to groom his third teenage victim was jailed for nine years today.

Lee Costi had already groomed and then had sex with two other young girls when he was caught by police trying to ensnare his third – a girl of 14.

Costi, 21, was the first person in the UK to be caught through a new international police agency website which allows children targeted by sex offenders to report their abusers.

Media student Costi, from Haslemere, Surrey, was arrested after arranging to meet the 14-year-old at Nottingham railway station for sex.

Police were tipped off through the Virtual Global Taskforce website when the girl told her mother of Costi’s advances.

Nottingham Crown Court heard that Costi had had sex with two other girls, aged 14 and 13 after meeting them through Internet chat rooms.

The older girl spent the night with him in a Swindon hotel in August 2004 while the younger teenager met and had sex with the pervert in January last year in an alleyway near London’s Waterloo Station.

Judge Jonathan Teare jailed Costi for a total of nine years today; three years each for having sex with the two teenagers, 18-months for inciting his third victim to perform sex acts over her computer web cam and further 18-months for possession of more than 40 indecent images of children.

One of those images the court heard was of the most serious level of abuse of a young girl.

Judge Teare told Costi: “You developed a totally unhealthy and depraved interest in young girls.

“Those girls who you talked to and abused were 13 or 14 but I have seen some of the images on your computer and that shows a totally depraved interest in girls very much younger.

“You took those girls’ virginity.

“You started by chatting to younger girls in chat rooms, you groomed them.

“Although the hope for the future from those who have had interviews with you is high, I am concerned for the future of young people, particularly young girls with whom you come into contact.

“It must be made clear to people that to groom, meet and have sexual intercourse with young women in this way is unlawful and severe punishment must follow.”

Detective Superintendent Jackie Alexander, the head of the sexual exploitation unit for Nottinghamshire Police, praised the actions of the schoolgirl who came forward to report Costi’s actions.

And she warned that there may be other victims of Costi too scared to come forward and report him.

Police found 355 chat log files detailing Costi’s conversations with young girls on the teenspot.com and MSN Messenger chatrooms, mostly detailing his interest in underage sex, the court heard.

Mrs Alexander said: “We were fortunate that a young Nottinghamshire girl was brave enough to tell her parents.

“It can be very difficult for them. They can realise their foolishness after the event but do not go on to report it.”

She added: “There may be other girls out there in a similar position.

“It is impossible to say how many victims there may have been. If this case alerts any other victims we would encourage them to come forward.”

Grace Hall, prosecuting, earlier told the court that the Nottinghamshire schoolgirl had been flattered by Costi’s attention and wanted to impress her friends with her online relationship.

“She says she complied (with Costi’s requests) so that she could tell her friends so they would not continue to think of her as boring.”

Police were lying in wait to catch Costi as he arrived for the train station meeting with his third victim in January last year but he did not show up.

Computer records followed by the taskforce and handed to Motts Police traced him to his parents’ house.

Mrs Alexander revealed that the force analysis of Costi’s PC had identified two other paedophiles, one in Poland and one in Hawaii, who had links with Costi.

The scheme – launched by the Virtual Global Taskforce, a multi-national organisation set up to tackle internet child abuse – invites youngsters to go online to report suspicious grooming activity.

The reports are monitored by Interpol and police across the UK, Australia, United States and Canada.

Rupert Hallowes, defending, told the court that Costi was a socially isolated young man, immature for his years, who had been bullied at school.

He has since been diagnosed as suffering from depression.

Mr Hallowes said: “He had developed a significant addiction to the internet, and chatrooms in particular, and has to accept that he was developing paedophilic tendencies.”

Jim Gamble, who heads the Virtual Global Taskforce, added: “Child sex abuse is one of the worst crimes imaginable and while the internet is a very vibrant environment for children and young people, it is also a place where people have to be careful.

“If in any doubt, members of the public can report inappropriate behaviour by clicking on our website and then rely on the police to take matters further.”