By SABI PHAGURA
A police worker who coaxed children into performing webcam sex shows has been locked up.
Paedophile Ashley Whitfield used animated kids’ web-chat site ‘Habbo Hotel’ to find victims late at night.
Children as young as ten posed indecently for him via webcams in their bedrooms as their parents slept unawares.
The PCSO, who secretly recorded the images, won his victims’ trust by pretending to be a teenager.
In reality, Whitfield, 25, was a serving police community support officer with a secret obsession with child porn.
He had been in a £20,000-a-year post with Cheshire Constabulary for two-and-a-half years when he was exposed.
Whitfield, of Redfern Walk, Warrington, had used a string of different email addresses to avoid detection.
He sobbed in the dock as he was jailed for three-and-a-half years at Manchester Crown Court.
He had admitted six counts of causing a child to engage in sexual activity, three counts of taking indecent photographs of a child, and 13 counts of possessing child pornography at an earlier hearing.
Habbo, is the world's largest social game and online community for teenagers but also has users that are younger.
According to the site, users of Habbo Hotel can 'make friends, chillax - (and) get noticed!' with the 10 million youngsters it attracts each month.
The site, which is owned by Finnish company Sulake, states that it bans users from sexually explicit language and it warns players not to exchange pictures or use webcams.
But police found photos and video of four children that Whitfield had incited into stripping off and performing sex acts online, as well as a large stash of child porn he had downloaded.
The crimes came to light last summer after detectives investigating a child grooming case in Scotland learnt that Whitfield had been involved in obscene chats with an 11-year-old boy and tipped off colleagues in Cheshire.
When officers knocked at Whitfield’s parents’ home and asked where he was, they were told ‘they should know’ as he was serving with them at the time.
When questioned, Whitfield admitted to obscene MSN Messenger chats with the 11-year-old boy a dozen times.
Searches of computer equipment uncovered images of the other young victims, who included a 10-year-old girl he had groomed using Skype, a young teenage girl he goaded into obscene acts while she enjoyed a sleepover with a friend, and an unidentified boy who Whitfield had saved a screenshot of as he performed an indecent act.
And this is not the first time Habbo has been in the media spotlight.
A Channel 4 News investigation in June this year found children on the website were befriended by users who encouraged them to make contact using Skype or webcams, and to perform sex acts.
Producer Rachel Seifert visited the site over a period of two months and said she was targeted by sexually explicit chat each time.
So damaging was the investigation that Sulake’s second-largest investor, London-based Balderton Capital, said it had decided to drop its stake in the business after learning of the findings.
Sentencing, Judge Martin Rudland said: 'What you did was go into a site where children should feel safe and free from predatory adults and corrupted them in their own homes.'
'You wormed your way into their homes; you ruthlessly exploited the immaturity and malleability of your victims,' he said.