How Pontypridd paedophile Owain Thomas was caught
A law graduate who incited almost 150 children to commit sexual acts on camera was only caught when he approached a group of young boys in a playground.
Owain Thomas, 29, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years on extended licence at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court on Friday after he pleaded guilty to 158 online sex offences against children.
His 146 victims were based across the UK and as far afield as the USA.
The number of offences committed by Thomas has been described as unprecedented by police - they are the highest ever investigated by the police online investigation team in south Wales.
Thomas, an Aberystwyth University law graduate, was first investigated for what South Wales Police said appeared to be an isolated act of indecency in a small town in Rhondda Cynon Taff, in November.
He stopped his car close to a group of boys, aged between seven and 14, at the playground and repeatedly asked them to expose themselves.
The children told their parents, who contacted police. The force carried out CCTV inquiries and managed to get a partial registration number.
Thomas was arrested two days later at his Pontypridd home.
It was only then the true extent of his crimes were revealed.
The force learned how he created the fake profiles on popular online games such as Roblox, an online multiplayer game, which has 90 million users worldwide and is marketed at children.
He would then pretend to be a child and would persuade his victims with gaming credits in exchange for sexual favours to be performed on camera, which he would record.
He used footage of those victims, pretending it was him, to create peer pressure in group chat situations, often taking on the role of three people at any one time, in multiple-way online group chats.
Thomas has been described as a "calculated and manipulative offender" who hid behind "expertly-crafted, fake personas" to commit his crimes.
Police seized laptops and devices from his home and he told an officer: "That's the one I didn't want you to find," as he was taken into custody.
Operation Bramble was launched and the online forensic investigation unveiled 110 hours of footage of abuse.
It was analysed by officers who then had to identify 146 victims aged between nine and 16.
Thomas' victims were found to be from south Wales, west Yorkshire, south Yorkshire, Northern Ireland, Lancashire and the USA.
The "painstaking process" saw officers visiting schools up and down the country with images of the victim's faces. They were identified and their parents were told.
Det Insp Lianne Rees said: "To tell any parent that their child has been a victim of a sexual predator was not easy.
"What was so alarming was the high percentage of parents who had no clue whatsoever what their children were doing online, and that should be a warning for others.
"There are predators out there who are very good at manipulating - children are vulnerable and should all be safeguarded effectively and parents have a big role to play in that."
Det Insp Rees added she would like to give some credit to the children in the Rhondda town who initially reported Thomas.
"I am confident that Thomas' quick arrest helped to prevent many further victims and came at a time when I feel that Owain Thomas' offending was showing worrying signs of escalation," she added.