leighton
Paul Leighton used up to 40 Facebook profiles to pose as children.Northumbria Police

A paedophile who blackmailed up to 100 children into performing sex acts over the internet, sometimes on their own family members, has been convicted of rape.

Despite never meeting the majority of his victims, Paul Leighton, from Seaham, County Durham, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison after admitting a string of sex crimes on children in the US, Canada and Australia.

Posing as a child, the 31-year-old created between 30 and 40 fake Facebook accounts to befriend teenagers and convince them to send naked or sexual images of themselves.

After obtaining the sexual images and pictures, Leighton would then blackmail the children into becoming abusers themselves by saying that he would forward the images to family members and friends.

In one instance, a 14-year-old boy from Florida raped his 12-month-old niece after being told to by Leighton.

The boy has since been charged with rape and incest by the US authorities as well as another boy similarly targeted by Leighton.

Leighton also forced a 13-year-old girl from Tennessee and a 14-year-old girl from South Dakota to have sex with their older brothers, reported the Daily Mail.

According to the Telegraph, Leighton also blackmailed two British teenage girls and also sexually abused a nine-year-old girl in the UK.

In a legal first, Leighton was successfully prosecuted at Newcastle Crown Court despite not being physically present where the acts took place.

Adding a six-year extended licence to his 16-year term, Judge Robert Adams said: "You have effectively destroyed the lives of these people against whom you made these threats."

Prosecutor Paul Reid told that the fate of the boys in the US judicial process was not known to him.

"This was the utterly appalling abuse of many children and it is suspected by the police this could be as many as 100 in the United States, Canada and potentially a couple in Australia," he said.

"He contacted children through various Facebook accounts using assumed names such as Emma Sanderson, Laya Anderson and June Clarke.

"He coerced them into sending videos or photographs of themselves naked and then made threats to expose their previous activity to family and friends.

"He admitted to using 30 to 40 Facebook accounts to commit coercive acts beyond getting people to send images of themselves.

"FBI investigators in the United States discovered 15 Facebook accounts traceable to this defendant."

Leighton admitted rape, sexual assault on a girl under 13, making and distributing indecent images, causing or inciting sexual grooming, blackmail and possession of a class B drug.