A FORMER trainee police officer from Bishopsteignton has been jailed for grooming girls as young as nine on TikTok and asking them to send him naked pictures of themselves.

Jason Hicks was employed as a student officer by Devon and Cornwall police when he approached around 100 girls all over the world on TikTok while claiming to be a 17 or 18-year-old sixth former.

He was caught after the mother of a nine-year-old girl in Wiltshire found his messages on her daughter’s phone and reported them to the police, who eventually realised they had come from Hicks.

He selected his victims from TikTok but then moved their conversations onto Snapchat before he used ‘truth or dare’ games to encourage them to strip off and touch themselves.

The girls included a 13-year-old from America who he asked to film herself performing sex acts and two eleven-year-olds from Sweden who he asked to send nude or semi-nude images.

He used Snapchat because their postings delete automatically. This meant police only recovered a fraction of the 100 contacts which Hicks admitted after his arrest.

He admitted everything in interview and told colleagues had been sexually attracted to children since he was a teenager but he was disgusted by his own actions.

He was suspended when he arrested a year and has since been thrown out of the force.

A psychiatric report concluded that he had a compulsive sexual behaviour disorder and was suffering from depression.

A Judge at Exeter Crown Court ruled that he was a dangerous offender whose release would have to be controlled by the parole board.

Hicks, aged 31, of Canons Close, Bishopsteignton, admitted inciting or attempting to incite five different girls to sexual activity and sexual communications with them and three of making, by downloading, indecent images.

He was jailed for four years with a three year extended licence, put on the sex offenders’ register and made subject of a sexual harm prevention order which will enable the police to monito his online activity for ten years.

He told him: ‘This was serious offending involving real life and real world contact with individuals you knew or believed to be young girls at a time when you were a student police officer.

‘I acknowledge you have lost the chance of the career you once wished for.’

The judge declared Hicks to be a dangerous offender despite a counsellor and a psychiatrist writing reports which said he was a sex addict rather than a paedophile.

The judge said: ‘With the greatest respect for the reports, they each fail to properly engage with the elephant in the room, which is why you sought out so much contact with young children rather than adults and why you sought real sexual contacts rather than accessing existing online pornography.’

Mr Rowan Jenkins, prosecuting, said the offences came to light in December 2021 when a mother in Wiltshire found messages on her nine-year-old daughter’s phone which claimed to come from an 18-year-old called Jack.

Inquiries led to Hicks, whose home was raided in January 2022, leading to the seizure of his phone and laptop. Almost all the sexual communications were on the phone rather than the computer but experts also found more than 1,000 child abuse images he had downloaded from the internet.

He admitted the other contacts in interview saying he knew what he had done was ‘100 per cent wrong’ and ‘he didn’t like being this way’. He said his online contacts may have involved 100 girls aged ten to 15.

Police found conversations in which he used truth or dare games to cajole girls into stripping off or committing sexual acts and messages which included on in which he told a victim ‘you can still be cute at 11’.

Miss Mary Aspinall-Miles, defending, said Hicks is genuinely remorseful and keen to receive treatment or therapy to change his behaviour.

She said: ‘This is somebody who hates who he is and hates what he has done and knows the harm he has done.’

Bravery of young victims commended

After the case, Devon and Cornwall police’s temporary Assistant Chief Constable Steve Parker said: ‘We note and welcome the sentencing of Jason Hicks today for what are despicable offences.

‘I would like to commend the bravery of the young victim in this case and her family in coming forward and reporting these appalling crimes.

‘We remain committed to bringing perpetrators of such offences to justice and those responsible will always be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

‘All police officers, including those in training, have a privileged role in being part of a Force responsible for the safeguarding of vulnerable people. The actions of Jason Hicks were wholly wrong and illegal and he now faces the consequences of that.

‘Our Paedophile Online Investigation Team and Professional Standards Department acted swiftly as soon as these offences were brought to our attention and Hicks was immediately arrested and suspended. Accelerated misconduct proceedings meant he was dismissed soon after.

‘Devon and Cornwall Police takes any reports of illegal or inappropriate conduct extremely seriously.

‘All officers and staff are expected to abide by the Code of Ethics and ensure the highest standards of behaviour, both on and off duty.

‘I can reassure the public that the overwhelming majority of our officers and staff work diligently to help to keep the public safe, uphold our high standards and provide an exceptional service to our communities.

‘We will always take the appropriate action when standards fall below those expected and continue to learn from any instances where they do.’

Detective Inspector Simon Foster, who led the investigation, added: ‘Devon and Cornwall Police’s Paedophile Online Investigation Team proactively seeks out offenders, no matter their position in society.

‘This result demonstrates the commitment we have to safeguarding children in Devon and Cornwall.

‘Our team conducts warrants following investigations into an individual’s online activities which lead to arrests, charges, convictions and, most importantly, children being safeguarded and protected from harm.

‘Our mission is to protect children from online predators, whether that be convicting offenders for possessing child sexual abuse material or protecting children who are groomed online.’

David Barnes, District Crown Prosecutor for CPS South West, said: ‘Hicks used social media to find and contact young girls.

‘He pretended to be a teenage boy, sending explicit messages and photographs while encouraging the girls to send him intimate images of themselves.

‘At least one girl, aged just nine years old, sent photographs of herself to Hicks as a result.

‘A swift investigation by the Devon and Cornwall Paedophile Online Investigation Team, working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service, enabled us to build a strong case that resulted in Hicks pleading guilty to a total of 13 charges.

‘Women and girls have the right to feel safe everywhere, including online.

‘We will continue to work in partnership with the police and other agencies across the criminal justice system to strengthen and improve our joint approach to tackling these appalling crimes.’