Company boss, 36, met 14-year-old girl on ‘snog, marry, avoid’ website and sexually abused her for four years
A company managing director subjected a schoolgirl to four years of sexual abuse after he met her at the age of 14 through a social media website which urges its teenage users to ‘snog, marry or avoid’.
Web designer Gareth Hughes, then 36, lied about his age to the girl after they began communicating when she logged onto the rating site Snog.fm.
Between 2012 and 2016 Hughes, from Reddish, Stockport, would routinely pick the girl up from school in his Mazda 6 car, shower her with gifts and would take her back to his apartment for sex and film it.
He had hundreds of images of her stored on his computer in a file labelled ‘filth’.
At the time was expecting a child with his regular girlfriend. He is now behind bars.
The father-of-two was arrested after the victim – now 21 and currently studying at university – invited Hughes for dinner at their family home and she gave them an incriminating letter confessing to a sexual relationship with him since before she started studying for her GCSEs.
Inquiries revealed Hughes, a university-educated computer science graduate, had also claimed two other victims, one of being the friend of the schoolgirl whom he attempted to pressure into a threesome and the other through the Snog.fm site.
The primary victim has also previously handed in an English story when she was sitting her GCSEs claiming to have been raped, but no action was taken at her request.
Officers subsequently uncovered a Skype in which the girl said she wanted to be pregnant by Hughes whilst he said wished she had done it when she was 14.
In a statement to police she said: ”“I was sexually and emotionally abused by Gareth Hughes. He was 22 years older and more experienced than me – I was so young and vulnerable I wasn’t even sure how to stand up for myself.
“When the abuse started I was beginning my GCSEs. I was often late to school because I could get not out of bed. I think this was a symptom of depression. I would go days without showering. I would binge eat to deal with the trauma of abuse.
“I still have a lot of trouble getting out of bed, at my worst I put myself in dangerous situations, it has had a huge impact on my academic performance – it is very unlikely I will finish my degree.
“I have tried CBT and talking therapy but nothing has had any real impact. I have suicidal feelings that are impossible to control. Sometimes I feel like I cease to exist, the only thing that has stopped me from committing suicide is that when I was 18 my best friend killed herself.
“I have nightmares about the abuse, sometimes I have flashbacks during consensual sexual encounters. It has caused me emotional damage that will last as long as I live. He made the repeated decision that his sexual gratification was more important than the mental health of myself and the other victims.”
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, Hughes, now 43, was jailed for six years and eight months after he pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual activity with a child, two counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, eight counts of making an indecent image of a child, two counts of distributing an indecent photo of a child and one count of possessing an extreme pornographic image.
The court heard that the abuse began in 2012 when she was just 14.
Prosecutor Miss Simone Flynn said: “Shortly before the Easter holidays in 2013, when she was 15, she handed to her English teacher a story. In that story she describes a girl meeting a man in town, and flashbacks that happen reveal that she had been abused.
“When the teacher asked the girl what the inspiration was she said: ”Isn’t it obvious I have been raped?” The teacher informed the head teacher who contacted her mother and it transpired that a year earlier she had gone to meet someone in the Arndale Centre.
”But the girl refused to say anything to her mother and was upset with the school and around this time her mother started to find things in her room that she wouldn’t have been able to afford. She found credit card receipts in the name of Gareth Hughes. Her daughter told her she had met someone on the internet and he liked to buy her things.
“In September 2015 she left home to go to university and her mental health deteriorated and she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. In 2016 her friend committed suicide and she moved home and only returned back to university to take her exams.
“She began to talk to her parents about the defendant saying she would like them to meet him as he had been a real support to her. The defendant did come to her home to dinner and appeared to be supportive to their daughter – but they had concerns as to the age difference.
“She then gave her parents a letter and in that letter she said she had met him when she was 14 and they had been in a sexual relationship. She said he had threatened to commit suicide if didn’t do what he wanted, he would often make her leave the house in the night and insist that she have sex with him.
“She said that she had not been raped and she said she wasn’t sure how to tell anyone at the time.”
The court heard the girl then went to police in October 2016 telling how in late 2011, when she was 14, she would go on a website called ”Snog.fm” in which users looked at other profile pictures and rate them to ”snog, marry or avoid.”
Miss Flynn added: “The defendant also used the website and he started a conversation with her and told her that she had a young body. He told her he was 26, when he was 36 which was outside the age range of the usual users of that site. They were usually between 15 and 18.
“She told him she was 16, she considered him to be funny and she felt flattered because the defendant liked her. After a while she met him at their local Tesco, he took her back to his flat, he touched her on the neck and breast.
“He would ask her to strip on video and he would do the same. They spoke on Skype and a few weeks later they met, and he took her back to his flat to have sex.
”He asked her if she was really 16. She then told him that she was 14. He then revealed he was 36 and they agreed to continue to meet up. She found out he had a girlfriend who was pregnant with their first child. He wanted to make things work with his girlfriend but said he and the victim should still continue to meet.
“They would meet three times a week he would pick her up straight from school and they would have sex, he would record what they were doing and take photographs of her lying naked on the bed. She continued to strip and perform sexual acts on Skype. She asked him to use a condom, but he would refuse to do so saying it hurt.
“In 2016 the defendant began renting an office in Rusholme. He took her to the office and showed her a folder on his computer that contained a large number of pictures of her aged 14 and 15 performing sexual acts.
“The victim began to see someone else – however the defendant found out and persuaded her to start seeing him again. Eventually she decided she had had enough and went to university and he said he would move and join her. She then decided to tell her parents of what had occurred.
“The second complainant met the defendant on a weekend she was at the first victim’s house having a sleepover. The other girl received a text saying he wanted her to come round and she suggested to her friend that she came with her.
“The defendant came around and collected them both, drove them back to his flat. Once at the flat the girls went into the bedroom, the defendant joined them and he was naked.”
The third victim was contacted via Snog.fm by Hughes who encouraged her send naked photographs of herself.
Police attended Hughes workplace in 2016 and seized two computers and an iPhone which contained indecent images of children and extreme pornography, totalling 260 still and moving images, including one of a five-year-old.
There were records of emails and skype conversations between the first victim and the defendant.
He was released pending investigation, but then went on the run and used aliases, swapped phone numbers and conducted all his financial transactions using pre-pay credit cards in a bid to give police the slip.
He was traced and arrested at his current workplace in London in January 2019.
In mitigation his lawyer Patrick Cassidy said: ”He is a man of talent and education and he has a good work history. He is remorseful and wants me to apologise to the complainants in this case for what he has done.”
But sentencing Judge Paul Lawton told Hughes: “It is overwhelmingly clear from the evidence that you have a sexual interest in young teenage girls. You are a highly educated but manipulative man and you have a lack of insight into your offending.
“The ages and stage of growth of the girls only highlights the need for the law to protect them from themselves – you have caused life-long psychological damage.”