Colchester: Shop worker who groomed girls jailed
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A shop worker who groomed teenage girls who went into his store has been jailed following work by specialist detectives who investigate the complex and organised exploitation of children.
Between 2015 and 2020, Matthew Clarke targeted 13 girls – all aged between 12 and 16 – and groomed them over social media platforms including WhatsApp and Snapchat.
Clarke, 23, used the mapping application on Snapchat to identify girls who came into the store where he worked and then make contact.
He then exchanged messages with the girls which, on many occasions, became increasingly sexualised in nature including him demanding they send him explicit photos and him sending them explicit images.
Clarke met and had sexual encounters with three of the girls.
In every case, Clarke knew how old the girls were.
In one instance, one of the victims told police she had sent Clarke an intimate image and then felt he had threatened to put it into the public domain if she did not send him more.
Concerns were raised to us by the mother of one of the girls in April 2019 about Clarke harassing her daughter.
The case has been investigated by the Child Sexual Exploitation Proactive Investigation Team, which investigates the complex and organised exploitation of children.
Through their investigation they identified seven victims who gave statements to our officers and led to Clarke being arrested in May 2019.
His was phone was seized and on it officers discovered 35 conversations on Snapchat with girls under the age of 16, 30 of which contained sexual content.
Through this, and further examination of other devices found when his home address in Delamere Road, Colchester was searched in November last year and May this year (pictured), officers were able to identify further victims with 13 in total.
He was later charged and at Ipswich Crown Court on 11 August he admitted:
- 12 counts of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity;
- Six counts of making indecent images of children;
- Five counts of causing a child to watch a sexual act;
- Three counts of sexual communication with a child;
- Two counts of sexual activity with a child;
- One count of assault by penetration;
- One count of sexual assault.
At the same court today (Friday 24 September) he was jailed for 12 years with a further eight on extended licence.
He has also been given a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for life.
Detective Sergeant Ben Rushmere, from the CSE Proactive Investigation Team, said:
“Matthew Clarke identified young girls, both whom he encountered in the shop where he worked and on social media.
“He instigated conversations with them and on many occasions persuaded them to send him intimate or explicit images of themselves to him.
“In every case he knew how old the girls were and proactively pursued them, to the extent of having sexual encounters.
“This pattern of predatory behaviour over several years clearly shows he is a danger to young girls.
“Fortunately, the work of my team meant he had no option but to admit the charges against him and will now spend a significant amount of time behind bars.
“I want to praise the bravery of the victims. They are young girls who have been preyed upon and have shown tremendous courage in reporting to us what Clarke had done to them.
“No-one should be experience what they have and I hope this sentencing will help them move forward.”
About the CSE Proactive Investigation Team
The CSE Proactive Investigation Team was formed earlier this year and deals with both reactive and proactive investigations that have been referred by partners or from other teams within Essex Police.
They take on both new and older referrals where conventional safeguarding tactics have been previously unsuccessful.
They deal with the most complex and difficult criminal investigations involving the sexual exploitation of children.
Offenders can be individuals or organised groups, they could be using fake profiles to groom young people online, or befriending them and giving them money or alcohol.
We use a variety of tactics to mitigate the threat they present.
This includes reactive investigations responding to referrals from victims, families, and partners as well as those identified through proactive intelligence gathering.
The team also work with our partners to ensure there are bespoke care plans for victims which mean they don’t have to speak to us if they don’t want to, but mean they are given proper support, assistance and guidance by trained professionals from the many children’s charities we work alongside in Essex.
If you have any information or concerns about a child being groomed or exploited, please call us on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.