Anthony Burns, 39, used dating and so-called sugar daddy sites to identify victims, having learned online blackmail techniques from Abdul Elahi, who was jailed for 32 years in 2021 after targeting around 2,000 people globally.
A court heard how Burns, originally from Lowestoft in Suffolk, had a perverse interest in sexual activity, including with animals, and demanded sexual videos from victims after tricking them into sending their personal and social media details and addresses.
He was jailed at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday, having admitted more than 40 charges, including 26 counts of blackmail, six relating to indecent images of children and two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity.
He also has previous convictions for grooming a 14-year-old schoolgirl when he was aged 25, in 2010, the court heard.
In her sentencing remarks, Judge Sarah Buckingham said Burns had displayed “depravity and callousness” - while his offending has caused some of his victims to self-harm or makes attempts on their own lives.
“You did not care about the anguish you caused and had complete disregard for your victims’ suffering,” she said, adding he had shown no remorse for his crimes.
In one case, he directed a woman in the United States to perform sex acts, before the woman was ordered to sexually abuse a seven-year-old girl as he recorded a 25-minute video, the judge said.
Describing Burns‘ online offending between 2018 and 2020 against 35 victims in the USA, UK and Australia, prosecutor Kate Temple-Mabe told the court: “Behind every communication was a desire to force women to perform sexually degrading acts online, which he would screenshot.”
The carefully thought-out process of the blackmail offences, including threats to post videos and images online or contact family members, “terrified victims into meeting his demands”, the court heard.
According to the National Crime Agency, Burns attempted to contact approximately 600 people in total with the intention of sexually exploiting them after being ‘tutored’ by Elahi, who is described as one of the most dangerous sexual predators ever investigated.
He shared tips with Burns on the psychology of blackmail, including scripted wording to help gain the trust of victims, and provided instruction on how they would respond to threats and what to say to them.
The first of eight women who read out victim personal statements told the court she feared that Burns was capable of visiting her house, and might sexually attack her or even murder her.
The businesswoman, who cannot be identified, said: “I could not stop thinking about it. Everything I had planned was tainted.”
Turning to face Burns in the glass-fronted dock, the woman, who read her statement from the witness box, added: “He doesn’t have any control over me any more. I don’t care about him.
“I want him to feel the fullest force of the law. He needs to be punished for what he did.”
Seven other women attended court to read their statements in person, with some saying they had considered taking their own lives or taken overdoses, and others telling how they had struggled to breathe due to the shock of threats and the “mental torture” perpetrated by Burns.
Another woman told the judge she no longer felt safe in her home and had fallen victim to Burns while struggling financially.
She ended her statement by saying: “It’s not an understatement to say that this incident has ruined my life.”
Another complainant, who suffered crippling panic attacks after being targeted while looking for a partner on a dating site, said: “The person I began to communicate with was Anthony Burns.
“He blackmailed me to produce this disgusting video. I felt physically sick. It was a vicious cycle I could not break.”
Burns, two of whose blackmail offences involved Elahi as an online accomplice, was also the subject of a sexual harm prevention order imposed for previous offences, the court heard.
Offering mitigation, defence barrister Hugh Forgan said Burns, who was addicted to pornography, had experienced traumatic events earlier in his life, including the death of a partner in a car crash.
Seeking to distinguish Burns‘ offending from that of Elahi, Mr Forgan said: “These images (obtained by blackmail by Burns) were not being sold on or distributed.
“It wasn’t a business, no matter how distressing or depraved.”
National Crime Agency operations manager Robert Slater described Burns as “a revolting sexual offender”.
Mr Slater said: “My first thoughts go out to his victims, many of whom showed immense courage by providing vital evidence to secure his conviction.
“The control he sought over them, some of whom were young children, was sinister, manipulative and heartless.”
In a message to anyone who falls victim to similar crimes, he added: “Anyone being pressured or threatened into sending sexual images or videos online should try to remove themselves immediately from the conversation, not respond further to any contact, and report the matter to police.
“You are not alone, you are not to blame and help is always available.”
Bethany Raine, specialist prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service, added: “Burns belittled and humiliated women.
“They became trapped in a web of fear where their own images became tools of manipulation and extortion, leaving them vulnerable to his depraved demands.
“His conviction sends a clear message that the CPS is committed in bringing offenders like Burns, who sexually abuse and exploit victims, to justice, wherever that abuse takes place.”