A MAN who was a cheerleading coach for many years has been jailed for abusing young girls he met through coaching and online grooming.
Tom Walsh, of Shaw Lane, Prescot, was found guilty of 28 sexual offences against children as well as possessing and distributing child abuse images, following a trial at Bolton Crown Court which ended on February 2.
Yesterday the 37-year-old was sentenced at the same court, where he was handed a 15-year jail term, with a further five years to be spent on license.
The court heard that Walsh had a ‘sexual interest in young girls’ and groomed and abused one of his victims for six years, from the age of 13.
He was caught out when he unknowingly made contact with police officers online while attempting to contact a child.
A former cheerleader himself, Walsh had assisted in the coaching of children in the activity for a number of years.
It was there that he met two of his victims, whilst the third he groomed online.
While he abused his three victims at locations in Manchester and Liverpool, Walsh also communicated with a number of girls across the UK to obtain child abuse images from them, the court was told.
During his trial Greater Manchester Police revealed that their investigation into his offending was launched following an investigation by Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCU) where covert officers communicated with Walsh online.
“As enquiries progressed, Walsh’s sexual interest in children – young girls - became apparent,” a GMP spokesperson confirmed.
The investigation, which uncovered numerous indecent images of children saved on Walsh’s device, as well as chats with his victims, led to him being arrested on August 20, 2020.
Officers found he used Snapchat to communicate with his victims and screen recording software to save child abuse images and conversations.
Police were able to identify a number of those he targeted, including the three girls he had sexually abused.
Walsh first contacted one of those girls online when she was 13.
Over the next six years he groomed and sexually abused her, even sending her child abuse images.
Two further victims, who were teenagers at the time and came into contact with Walsh through cheerleading, were identified during the investigation.
Detective Chief Inspector Suzanne Keenaghan, GMP’s Designated Force Co-ordinator for Child Protection in the Public Protection Division, said: “This jail sentence would not have been possible without the courage and strength of the victims and the tireless efforts of the entire investigation team.
“This was an incredibly difficult investigation, but I am pleased the defendant will now finally answer for his despicable actions.”
She added: “Walsh was placed in a position of authority and he professed to be a father figure and friend to his victims, but he was their abuser.
“He was manipulative predatory and exploitative and used typical grooming behaviour to befriend children who were going through difficult times and were vulnerable.
“He betrayed their trust and inflicted life-long trauma onto children for his own sexual gratification.”
She explained: “For one victim, cheerleading was supposed to be a safe space but Walsh used it as his hunting ground.
“He has never shown remorse or recognition for what he has done.
“It’s entirely possible Walsh’s offending could have gone on unchecked and harmed more children were it not for the proactive work of the ROCU team who carried out a covert investigation and brought his despicable crimes to light.”
Special recognition was given to one GMP detective who “went above and beyond” to work with the victims and support them to bring their abuser to justice.
“I also want to commend our own officer Detective Constable Ceri Martin who went above and beyond what was required of her to identify and meet with the victims and spent months earning their trust and supporting them to report what had happened to police,” Det Chf Insp Keenaghan said.
“It is in large part thanks to her efforts that the victims finally have justice today and I am so proud of her and the brilliant people like her that we have in this unit who are doing their utmost to protect children.”
She added: “I hope this case also reminds parents and young people of the dangers.
“Abusers can be people you know and trust and they can take advantage of that trust.
“I would therefore urge parents and teachers to speak to children and young people about the signs of abuse and spread awareness of how to stay safe online.
“Sexual abuse is never the fault of the victim and no one should feel the need to suffer in silence. It is never too late to tell someone and seek help.”
Detective Chief Inspector Al Burns of the Yorkshire and Humber Regional Organised Crime Unit (YHROCU) said: “Our team of online investigators work tirelessly to ensure that individuals like Tom Walsh are identified, and children can be safeguarded and removed from further harm.
“YHROCU worked in partnership with Greater Manchester Police to bring this predator to justice.”
Walsh, who will now serve 15 years behind bars and a further five years on license, has also received a lifetime sexual harm prevention order and was registered as a sex offender for life.