2009 Plymouth child abuse case
The 2009 Plymouth child abuse case was a child abuse and paedophile ring involving at least five adults from different parts of England. The case centred on photographs taken of up to 64 children by Vanessa George, a nursery worker in Plymouth. It highlighted the issue of child molestation by women, as all but one of the members of the ring were female.
Between late 2008 and early 2009, Vanessa George, Colin Blanchard, and Angela Allen met on Facebook, and then started to email and text message each other. The messages were often of a sexual nature, and moved on to child abuse. Police believe that the three were having a contest to see who could produce the most depraved picture. George started taking indecent pictures of 2 to 5 year old children at the nursery where she worked, and also a picture of her then 14-year-old daughter. Police believe that none of these pictures were distributed beyond these three people.
A fourth member of the ring, Tracy Lyons, a mother of nine from Portsmouth, Hampshire, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to assault of a child by penetration, sexual assault of a child under 13, causing a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity and three offences of distributing indecent photographs of a child.
A fifth member of the ring, Tracy Dawber, a care worker from Southport, in Merseyside, was found guilty of one count of sexually abusing a baby in October 2010.
Vanessa Sylvia Marks
30 March 1970
|Criminal penalty||Indeterminate imprisonment sentence (minimum 7 years); released|
|Occupation||Prostitute, traffic warden|
|Criminal penalty||Indeterminate imprisonment sentence (minimum 5 years)|
|Born||5 October 1970|
Rochdale , greater Manchester , England
|Criminal penalty||Indeterminate imprisonment sentence (minimum 9 years)|
|Born||8 January 1970|
|Criminal penalty||7 years|
|Born||13 June 1966|
|Occupation||Community care worker|
|Criminal penalty||4 years|
The investigation and arrests
In June 2009, a colleague of Colin Blanchard turned on Blanchard's laptop computer to research Blanchard's business dealings whilst Blanchard was abroad. The colleague found images of sexual abuse of babies and toddlers, which he reported to Greater Manchester Police. Police searched Blanchard's computer, and arrested him upon his return to England. Police found indecent images on his computer, and emails and texts between himself, Vanessa George and Angela Allen.
On the evening of 8 June, police arrested George, a worker at Little Teds Nursery in Plymouth. George appeared in court on 11 June on charges of sexual assault and making, possessing and distributing indecent images of children.
The trial was presided over by Mr Justice Royce. George pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual assault, and six of making and distributing indecent pictures of children. On 15 December 2009 George was given an indeterminate sentence, and told that she would serve at least seven years, with the proviso that she must prove she is safe to society before being released.
Allen pleaded guilty to distributing an indecent image, and four counts of sexual assault, all of the offences involved children. On 15 December she was also given an indeterminate sentence, with a minimum tariff of five years.
On 10 January 2011, Blanchard was given an indeterminate sentence of at least nine years, and two other members of the paedophile ring, Tracy Dawber and Tracy Lyons, were sentenced to four and seven years respectively.
In March 2010, a book written by Wensley Clarkson, Vanessa: A Portrait of Evil caused controversy when parents of the victims railed against it, calling it 'sick' and saying they were 'horrified'. The author defended his position on the book, claiming it was written as a genuine attempt to understand what George did and why she did it.
Release of Lyons from prison
Lyons was released from prison in October 2011, nine months after her conviction, having spent two years in prison. Her release was condemned by child protection charity Kidscape, with a spokesperson Claude Knights stating: "This early release is a betrayal of the victims and their families whose suffering will continue for years." After her release, Lyons lived under an assumed identity in Southampton until 2016 when her background was discovered by neighbours.
The case prompted an increased recognition of the problem of female paedophiles, sex offenders, and the scale of their offending, with one estimate suggesting that at least 10% of sex offenders are female. The case also challenged the false stereotype that only men sexually abuse children. Previously some had attempted to blame the behaviour of female child sexual abusers on men, suggesting that the female child sex abusers were usually acting under duress or coercion. The case showed that the perpetrators were acting of their own free will and for their own sexual gratification. Michele Elliott of child protection charity Kidscape stated "the reality is women abuse, women abuse without men telling them to abuse, and I think we have to acknowledge it for the sake of the children who are being abused." The case also promoted calls for more research into the offending of female paedophiles.
The case prompted Plymouth City Council to launch a serious case review, the report of which was published on 4 November 2010. It concluded that while ultimate responsibility for the abuse rested with George and that no "professional could have reasonably predicted that George might be a risk to children", there were several failings in nursery's management, recruitment, staff reporting and other arrangements, which had "provided an ideal environment" for her to abuse. It also speculated that either a 2008 Ofsted inspection of the nursery just months before, which has rated the nursery "good" for child protection, had not been adequate, or that Ofsted's "framework for inspection is not adequate".
Little Ted's, the private nursery where the abuse took place, was situated in the grounds of Laira Green Primary School. The nursery closed at the time of the first arrests, in June 2009. In September 2010 a new facility opened in its place, a pre-school unit named Greenshoots, which was to be managed jointly with the school, with the school head teacher on its board of trustees.
Vanessa George was released from prison in September 2019 after serving ten years in prison. The parole board approved her release in July 2019. George must adhere to a number of conditions including not owning a device which can access the internet. Any break in these conditions will result in her release being revoked and additional jail time.
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