A police officer who blackmailed more than 200 teenage girls into sending him explicit images has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 12 years.
Lewis Edwards, 24, groomed 210 girls aged between 10 and 16 on Snapchat over a three-year period.
The South Wales Police officer posed as a 14-year-old boy and forced his victims to make indecent videos and images of themselves, which he covertly recorded.
He then used the recordings to blackmail his victims into sending increasingly graphic and explicit images. He also sent videos of himself performing a sex act.
Edwards, who joined the force in January 2021, was charged with a total of 161 offences which included inciting children to make indecent images online and to engage in sexual activity.
He pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life with a minimum of 12 years but refused to attend the sentencing hearing today at Cardiff Crown Court.
Lewis Edwards, 24, who blackmailed more than 200 teenage girls into sending him explicit images has been jailed for life with a minimum term of 12 years
Lewis Edwards pictured here in his police interview
Judge, the Recorder of Cardiff, Tracey Lloyd-Clarke said he caused many of his victims ‘severe psychological harm’ and had caused ‘significant harm’ to the reputation of South Wales Police.
She said: ‘He had a pattern of behaviour, making online contact with a girl sometimes pretending to be someone she knew or through friends of friends as he pretended to be a boy of similar age.
‘He groomed his victims, psychologically manipulating them until had gained control over them.’
The judge said he would ‘gaining trust’ by complimenting the girls and ‘building relationships’ with them by pretending to be a teenage boy.
She added: ‘Once he had groomed his victims sufficiently to gain control over them he pressured them to send him indecent images and to engage in sexual behaviour for him to view remotely.
‘He threatened serious violence against some of the victims and their families.
‘Under his control, groomed and subjected to psychological pressure and fearful for their own safety and their families his victims would comply in the hope that he would then leave them alone.
‘However, as he intended all along he had his victims trapped. He recorded and retained images of the sexual acts his victims had been forced to perform.’
Ms Lloyd-Clarke said Edwards would then threatened to release the images on social media unless the girls performed ‘more and more extreme sexual acts’.
The judge said a life sentence was appropriate because the level of danger posed to children by Edwards was ‘very high’ as she said he must serve a minimum of 12 years behind bars.
She said: ‘These are extremely serious offences and the defendant was a prolific offender.
Edwards (pictured) posed as a 14-year-old boy to groom over 200 girls aged between 10 and 16, while blackmailing hem to send him explicit images of themselves
‘He has caused significant harm to the victims, to their parents, their siblings and their wider families.
‘It is clear he gained not only sexual gratification from his offending but he also enjoyed the power and control he had over these young girls.
‘His reaction to their distress can properly be described as cruel and sadistic.
‘His offending is significantly aggravated by the fact he was a serving police officer and many of his victims and their families have said that his actions have caused them to lose trust in the police.
‘There is no doubt that he has caused significant harm to the reputation of South Wales Police and police in general but it should be borne in mind that it was officers from South Wales Police who brought this case to light and continue to identify and help further victims.’
Edwards, of Cefn Glas, Bridgend, was arrested after an IP address was linked to an his address in the Bridgend area. Police found that he had accessed and downloaded indecent images of children from the dark web.
A warrant was executed at his address in Bridgend and in February 2023 he was arrested and remanded in custody. After his arrest, Edwards was immediately suspended from duty and resigned.
Officers recovered heavily encrypted electronic devices alongside a blackmail manual. They later gained access to his devices and found that he had contacted 207 girls between February 2019 and February 2023.
Edwards’s victims gave harrowing evidence to the court of how his crimes had affected them – with many self-harming, contemplating suicide, losing friends and left fearful of going out.
One teenage girl addressed the judge in person while several mothers sat in the witness box to describe how their children’s lives had been forever changed.
‘I want my voice to be heard, this is who I am,’ a teenager told Judge Tracey Lloyd-Clarke.
‘I thought I was talking to a really nice boy who liked me, complimented me, and made me feel good about myself.
‘I told him I didn’t want to send images any more and he blackmailed me by threatening me and my family. I felt terrified, horror and let down.’
Another of Edwards’s victims said: ‘Before this I had stuff going on with my mental health which was getting better, but this happened and it started to get worse again. I felt worse than I was before.’
One teenager said: ‘Before all this I was not like this, I was an anxious person and always smiling. I’m not like that now.
‘It’s affected my relationship with friends as I don’t want to go out, it’s had a massive effect on my life… I feel like I am always panicking.’
Another said: ‘I hate him, he’s horrible. I don’t know how someone could do this to me.’
Edwards was arrested a remanded in custody in February 2023. He is pictured here during a police interview
One mother told the judge: ‘I feel I’ve lost a small part of my baby girl. Her innocence has been torn from her and she will never get it back. ‘I’m not sure any of us will 100% trust the police again.’
One parent choked back tears in court as she told the judge her daughter had started self-harming.
‘Lewis Edwards, I want you to know what you have done to my child and my family. You have broken us,’ she said.
‘You have broken her to the point she didn’t want to live any more. I want the court to understand the irreparable damage you have caused us all.’ Another mother said:
‘On numerous occasions I know she contemplated suicide and still refers to those dark times when she felt hollow and worthless.
‘I find it incomprehensible an individual is capable of creating such fear and torment of a child.
‘I can only conclude Lewis Edwards is a broken human being. This man took my daughter’s innocence for life. She’s lost her sparkle.’
A mother said her daughter loved socialising with her friends through social media and Edwards’ crimes had changed that.
‘I totally underestimated the delicate balance between safety and privacy, and danger and abuse,’ she said.
‘She is a victim and although I do blame myself for not protecting her she was a 12-year-old girl whose innocence was violated through no fault of her own. She has a right to be safe online.’
One teenager was revising for her GCSEs when she fell victim to Edwards. ‘Her behaviour did change, she was very angry, short-tempered and generally not herself,’ her mother said.
‘The guilt she feels about not telling someone sooner and (she) worries she could have stopped him from targeting other young people.’
Others chose to have their victim impact statements read out by prosecutor Roger Griffiths. While reading one statement from a mother, Mr Griffiths became choked with emotion and had to take a break before continuing.
‘As a family we have had our fair share of heartache and tragedy but nothing can ever compare to this,’ the mother said.
‘As a family we have struggled with news of my declining physical health. I am in the process of undergoing medical treatment and time is extremely precious.
‘The last few months should have been a time I can make memories and spend quality time with my children. It’s been taken away from us. The emotional pain I have endured has impacted my declining physical health.
‘Lewis Edwards has taken everything from us, he’s taken the innocence of my beautiful little girl, he’s taking precious family time we should be spending together and taken away our emotional and physical wellbeing of both of us as parents.
‘I’d like the court to understand life will never be the same for us again. The impact of this offence is very real and life-changing.’
Edwards was to sentenced to life with a minimum of 12 years but refused to attend the sentencing hearing today at Cardiff Crown Court (pictured)
Detective Superintendent Tracey Rankine, head of the Police Online Investigation Team, said following today’s sentencing: ‘Our priority has been to identify the victims from Snapchat usernames and work with police forces across the UK to ensure they are safeguarded and supported. The scale and seriousness of the offences identified by our investigation is extreme.
‘His abhorrent behaviour involved threatening and blackmailing the young victims who lived in fear. Our investigation has involved forensically examining encrypted computer equipment and mobile devices which led to the recovery of shocking material. The strength of this evidence has resulted in Edwards admitting all charges.’
Assistant Chief Constable Danny Richards added: ‘The crimes committed by Lewis Edwards are despicable and the public will be as shocked and sickened as we are that such appalling offences were committed by a serving police officer.
‘As soon as we knew the offender was a serving police officer, Edwards was suspended and sacked at a misconduct hearing which was held at the very earliest opportunity to remove him from policing.
‘His behaviour only serves to damage the public’s trust and confidence in policing and undermines the work of the responsible, hard-working police officers who serve the communities of South Wales with courage and pride.
‘There is no place in South Wales Police for anyone who abuses the personal responsibility they hold as a police officer.
‘I understand there will be people asking how Edwards could have joined the police at the same time he was committing these terrible crimes.
‘At the time of him joining South Wales Police his vetting was clear and there was nothing to indicate that he was involved in such abhorrent offences against children.
‘Our number one priority is to protect the public so if anyone has any information about the safety of young or vulnerable people or those who pose a risk in our society then I urge them to come forward and report it to us.
‘I am grateful for the work of our investigation team who have brought Edwards to justice and ensured his victims have been protected from further harm.’
Lucy Dowdall, Specialist Prosecutor for the CPS said: ‘The extent of Edwards offending is incomprehensible, my thoughts remain with the victims who have suffered his abuse.
‘Lewis Edwards abused the trust placed in him as a serving police officer, targeting children online in an avalanche of sustained sexual abuse, grooming them and forcing them to satisfy his own sexual needs.
‘Edwards tactics of threatening and blackmailing his victims shows the extent of his depraved actions and lack of remorse towards those he targeted.
‘He believed he was above the law, and his role as a police officer would protect him from investigation and prosecution. He was wrong – together the CPS and South Wales Police worked tirelessly to build a strong case against him and see him plead guilty.
‘There is nowhere for sexual predators to operate or hide. Our Organised Child Sexual Abuse Unit is a specialist unit dedicated to prosecuting child sexual abuse, and we will continue to work closely with the police to bring offenders to justice.’