Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Woman's conviction ends 'sickening paedophile ring'

The conviction of a woman for sexually assaulting a baby and allowing her boyfriend to take photographs of the abuse today brought an end to "one of the most sickening paedophile rings this country has seen", prosecutors said.

Tracy Dawber, 44, today became the fourth woman to be convicted of abuse and pornography offences relating to "evil" paedophile Colin Blanchard's internet child abuse ring.

Dawber, a community care worker, wept as a jury at Winchester Crown Court took just two hours to find her guilty of the assault, and allowing Blanchard to take pictures of the abuse on his mobile phone.

She let IT consultant Blanchard, 40, take photos at her home in Southport, Merseyside, in August 2008 as she assaulted the baby on her sofa.

The pair then took photos of themselves on the same phone taking part in sex acts.

The case had parallels to other women Blanchard met over the internet, including Vanessa George, who abused young children at a nursery in Plymouth, Devon, and Angela Allen, who also abused children to please Blanchard.

George was obsessed with Blanchard, telling him she was his "paedo whore mum" and sending him eight pictures a week.

George and former prostitute Allen were sentenced at Bristol Crown Court earlier this year for a string of sexual assaults and making and distributing indecent images of children.

Mother-of-two George and single mother Allen, from Nottingham, carried out the offences with Blanchard, from Smithy Bridge, near Rochdale, after they all met on Facebook.

They were given indeterminate sentences and Mr Justice Royce warned Dawber today that a lengthy custodial sentence was inevitable.

She is now likely to be sentenced alongside Blanchard and another woman Tracy Lyons, from Portsmouth, who had admitted her part in child abuse with Blanchard. Reporting restrictions meant her relationship to him could not be reported until today.

Dawber was found guilty of one count of sexually assaulting a child and five counts of permitting indecent photographs of a child to be taken.

She was unusual in the group of women because she actually met Blanchard and the pair had a year-long relationship.

George, Allen, Dawber and Lyons have never met.

Dawber denied the charges but Blanchard told the court she had taken the lead in the abuse, during the two-week retrial after a previous jury failed to reach a verdict.

She told the jury that she could not remember Blanchard taking the photos and she was only checking for nappy rash and not abusing the baby.

Blanchard previously admitted being involved in the assault, the jury was told, and he has also admitted his crimes in relation to the other women.

Dawber met Blanchard through the dating website Plenty of Fish.

When a work colleague found child sex abuse images on Blanchard's computer in June 2009 the net closed in on Dawber when officers found the Nokia mobile phone with the images on them.

Dawber was arrested on November 17, 2009 and at first denied even touching the child.

Dawber, Lyons and Blanchard are likely to be sentenced at Bristol Crown Court in November.

Ann Reddrop, the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer who dealt with all the cases, said: "Colin Blanchard turned out to be an evil man who controlled four women in one of the most sickening paedophile rings this country has seen.

"He encouraged these women to take and share ever more horrific images of the sexual abuse of children. As if that was not bad enough, he encouraged them to physically abuse children to produce those pictures.

"In the case of Vanessa George, this led to a hideous betrayal of trust of those parents who relied on her to look after their children at the nursery where she worked.

"She showed a complete disregard for the lives of the victims and their families, all of whom have been left devastated by these crimes.

"Anyone who was in court to hear details of these cases cannot fail to be horrified at why three women - Vanessa George, Angela Allen and Tracy Lyons - committed such shocking acts of child abuse when prompted by Colin Blanchard or why Tracy Dawber encouraged such activity to take place in her presence."