By Timothy Gallagher
A SOCIAL media marketing expert from Stalybridge exploited a Chinese music and dance app which merged to became TikTok to prey on young girls in a sick online extortion racket.
Tom Vinden, 23, of Cedar Avenue, posed as a service presenter for the former Musical.ly platform and sent messages and threatened to take down victims’ accounts unless they sent him naked selfies.
He was initially arrested in 2017 and given a suspended sentence but was then locked up for four-and-a-half years on appeal only to be automatically freed on parole early last year.
Vinden was charged again earlier this year when inquiries found he had targeted another girl aged just 10 in 2017 – just 19 days after the original suspended sentence was imposed.
The girl had sent him pictures of her private parts via the streaming app but told her teacher when she was ordered to do a striptease in front of her webcam.
In a statement, the girl’s mother said: “Since the attack she has been self-isolating and paranoid about other men looking at her. She dresses inappropriately for the weather wearing jumpers and winter clothing when it is hot.
”She is obviously extremely body conscious because of what happened. Other pupils at her school have heard about this and decided to taunt her about it.”
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, Vinden admitted causing a girl under 13 to engage in sexual activity but escaped with two years’ jail suspended for two years as he had kept out of trouble since he was freed. His online profile said he is ”skilled in website updating and social media marketing”.
Robert Hall, prosecuting, said: “In April 2017 the complainant was 10 years old and at a friend’s house in the Leeds area using an app called Musical.ly. A message arrived, and it was the defendant who had set up an account on that app with a false name and date of birth.
“He posed as the service provider and sent messages threatening to take down the complainant’s account, the defendant indicated if the complainant sent him photographs of her breasts and genitals, he wouldn’t take down the account.
“Over the course of that weekend the complainant took the photographs and they were sent to the defendant. He responded asking the complainant to strip naked on a video call, the complainant refused, and he responded by threatening to post the already sent photographs on Musically and then Facebook. She refused and blocked him.
“Those events became known around the school, were found out by teachers, relayed to the father then taken to the police station.”
The court heard in March 2017 – just three weeks before the incident – Vinden admitted 12 other offences of causing or inciting a female under 13 to engage in sexual activity. He received a suspended sentence order and was ordered to sign the Sex Offender Register for life and was ordered to abide by a 10-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
Appeal court judges later increased the sentence to four-and-a-half years in jail on the grounds the original suspended sentence was ”too lenient”.’ He was released on license last year and was charged with the new offence in March.
Sentencing Vinden, Judge Paul Lawton said: ”It is clear that for a period of your life you were a committed paedophile who was totally motivated to contact underage children and get them to send you indecent images.
”Whether you are properly motivated to change only time will tell. But in 2017 you were sentenced for an identical offence to those which you face today – more offences of inciting children to engage in sexual activity online.
“You retained your liberty, remarkably, although the court of appeal imposed a sentence of four and a half years. These latest offences occurred 19 days after the suspended sentence order and that is a grossly aggravating feature.
”You set out to contact a 10-year-old girl on a music streaming app and you told her you were in control of her account and would take it down. I’m quite satisfied you knew her to be an underage child.
“You then threatened to upload her images onto social media if she didn’t perform a full strip. It is a very unpleasant with you blackmailing her and that young girl was terrified. Fortunately, she had the good sense to report that to a teacher, all of that led back to you but it took a long, long time.
“I have to balance the gravely aggravating feature of committing like offences 19 days after being sentenced against your rehabilitation since being on license. You have responded well to treatment in custody and you have an adult girlfriend, she knows fully about you and you were frank enough to tell her when you first met.
“I could only send you back into custody for two year at the most, you would serve 12-months of that and then the whole process would have to start afresh. ”
Vinden will also have to complete 200 hours unpaid work. Musical.ly which was based in Shanghai was launched in August 2014 and by May 2017 has more than 200 million users. It was acquired by ByteDance Ltd and was merged into TikTok in August 2018.