A sex predator who pretended to be fashion blogger Zoella Sugg to groom young children online has been jailed for eight years.
David Harmes lured young girls into performing sex acts by posing as popular celebrities he thought would appeal to them.
He claimed to be fashion icon Zoella as well as a member of boyband Bars and Melody and a modelling agent.
The 20-year-old, from Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, would contact victims across the UK by Skype using the false identities and coerce them into sex acts.
He would tell besotted fans to pose in swimwear and underwear to ‘score points’ to be in with a chance of winning tickets to see or meet the stars he pretended to be.
He then claimed they had ‘missed out by a point or two’ before getting them to perform sex acts.
During other online conversations, Harmes posed as a dance school talent scout and a modelling agent – claiming he could get them contracts in glossy magazines.
Police said 294 girls, mainly from across the UK but also from abroad, were duped into ‘degrading and humiliating acts’ over a five year period – which included them stripping off in front of Harmes and posing in underwear.
He also filmed them carrying out sexual acts before distributing them online. He set up 24 separate Skype and other accounts targeting victims who had posted videos to YouTube.
Harmes admitted 35 offences against 28 victims, aged eight to 18, and also asked for a further four offences to be taken into consideration.
The offences include causing or inciting a girl under 13 to engage in sexual activity and making and distributing indecent photographs of a child. He did not meet up with any of the victims.
Judge Roger Dutton told him: ‘You had a perverted sexual desire to coerce and persuade children to do foul things. These offences had a profound impact on not only the children but also the parents of the children who should have been safe in their own home’.
None of the famous people he pretended to be knew anything about his activities.
DC Simon Ledger of Cheshire Police, said: ‘Harmes duped young girls into thinking they were talking to people they looked up to and in some cases posed as a modelling agency representative so that he could manipulate them for his own pleasure.
‘It is a timely reminder that while the internet is an amazing tool, it has a darker side which we need to be mindful of and shows just how imperative it is that parents are aware of the sites their children are accessing and who they are communicating with.
‘People like Harmes have no qualms with using the internet to their own perverse means.’
Wendy Newton, senior crown prosecutor with the Mersey Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service, added: ‘Harmes ruthlessly exploited these children for his own sexual gratification.
‘The girls, some as young as eight and nine, thought they were being offered the opportunity to be part of a modelling or dance company or were being given the chance to talk to a member of a famous pop group or fashion blogger.
‘Harmes is yet another offender willing to use the internet and webcams to commit crimes. It is important that parents are aware of what their children are doing online and that they talk to them about the risks of interacting with people they don’t know personally.’