December 2011

Billericay sports coach Matthew Leonard jailed for sex offences

A SPORTS coach from Billericay has been sentenced to seven years in jail for a string of online child sex offences.

Matthew Leonard, 21, from Upland Close, pleaded guilty to 15 offences, including inciting children to commit sexual acts online and possessing indecent images of children.

Leonard confessed to a further ten offences following his arrest by police in April, but the court heard the actual number of his victims was as high as 80.

The former sports coach used the social networking site ‘Habbo Hotel’ to contact the majority of his victims, the youngest of whom was ten years old.

Users of the site, aimed at children aged between 8 and 12, attempt to create hotels by purchasing virtual furniture.

Basildon Crown Court heard how Leonard, posing under a false name and age, offered free furniture, or “furni” as he termed it, to young girls.

He would then move conversations on to the instant messenger MSN where he would incite girls to commit sexual acts to a web cam.

Leonard would record the images on to his computer and then threaten his victims with posting them on Facebook or sending them to friends if they refused to carry out further sexual acts, the court heard.

The offences took place from July 2010 up until his arrest in April with his victims coming from across the UK.

After executing a warrant on his house, police found 260 indecent images of children and 16 indecent videos.

Prosecuting, Carolyn Gardiner, told the court how Leonard had told police officers upon his arrest: “It’s just pictures and videos, I work with kids, it’s not like that.”

In the dock, Leonard sat with his head in his hands throughout as he listened to the prosecution.

The court heard how he had told police officers during interview he did not think of his victims as “real kids”, saying “you think it’s just an image, just a video”.

The impact of his crimes also had a bearing upon his family.

His mother, a child minder, was forced to give up her livelihood while Leonard’s father tried to commit suicide after his arrest.

Leonard’s brother was also known to police for viewing images of children over the internet, the court heard.

In defence, Mark Savage, said his client had become a “person he despises” having mixed with paedophiles while in custody, but said he had shown “genuine remorse” for his actions.

Mr Savage urged the judge to take into account Leonard’s young age when imposing the sentence.

“His punishment will go on many, many years beyond what this court can impose,” said Mr Savage.

His Honour Judge Jonathan Black took an hour to deliberate over the sentence.

Imposing the sentence of seven years, which included an extension of three years’ supervision, Judge Black said Leonard had “ruined his own life” and that he presented a “serious risk to young girls”.

Judge Black said he had “no doubt the offences would have continued for much longer had the police not intervened”.

As well as his prison sentence, Leonard was also handed a lifetime Sexual Offence Prevention Order, placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life and banned from ever working with children in the future.