Paedophile Colin Blanchard was 'a perfect conman'
When Colin Blanchard received a text telling him the police were waiting for him at Manchester Airport he tried to thrust his laptop, memory stick and mobile phone on a complete stranger.
Images of the most serious levels of child sex abuse were stored on his hardware. He knew it was enough for him to be imprisoned for a long time.
The 40-year-old paedophile from Rochdale, the "lynchpin" of a web of child sex abuse, has been given an indeterminate jail sentence, and told he will serve at least nine years, for a string of sexual assaults on a child and distributing indecent images of children.
He has finally been sentenced after a year-and-a-half of revelations focusing on four female paedophiles, a nursery and dozens of little children.
The businessman was first arrested when his plane touched down at Manchester after a trip to Abu Dhabi in June 2009.
A business associate had contacted the police after finding images of child sex abuse - many of the most serious kind - on his e-mail account.
Det Con Paul Hatton from Greater Manchester Police's child abuse investigation unit was one of the first to interview him.
"He was a nutter. He seemed so cocky and self-assured," he said.
"When you were talking to him he came across as the perfect conman, if it wasn't for the reams of evidence we had against him we could have believed him."
Blanchard appeared to be a successful family man with a flourishing business in IT sales.
He lived in a four-bedroomed home in Springwood, Rochdale with his wife and daughter.
His friends and business associates had no reason to suspect that this was a man who gained sexual gratification from the most horrific abuse of young children.
"I could clearly see how he ingratiated himself into these women's lives, he was so cool, calm and collected and came across as extremely confident," Det Con Hatton said.
"These women" refers to the four paedophiles with whom he shared photographs of abuse: Tracy Lyons, a mother-of-nine from Portsmouth; Angela Allen, a former prostitute from Nottingham; Tracy Dawber, a Southport care worker; and Vanessa George, a nursery worker from Plymouth.
All of them communicated with Blanchard over the internet, all of them abused children and all of them sent their pictures to him.
But he told detectives that he was the one that "wanted out", he was the one being used and exploited by them.
"It was clear he wasn't," Det Con Hatton said. "But we kept up with the charade so we could build a rapport with him.
"We led him to believe that he was being the cunning one, so he would regain his confidence and eventually trip himself up."
And he did.
"Several times, when we presented the evidence to him - pictures we had found, e-mails we had read, he had to own up and say, 'yes I was lying'.
"But he never offered more than the evidence we presented to him."
At one stage, over that intense weekend of questioning, Blanchard began to get upset.
"He did start to get distressed as we began to present him with more and more evidence. I think it was just crocodile tears.
"He told us he was abused as a young boy. He said he never looked into the eyes of his abuser while it was going on.
"He said this had made him want to look into the eyes of a child to see what they look like while they are being abused. It was at that point he became emotional."
Det Con Hatton does not know whether the story of abuse is true, but he said: "I certainly do not want to think about him being a victim in all this."
When police and forensics experts searched Blanchard's home, they heard a knock on the door. It was the bailiffs.
Blanchard was practically bankrupt. Even though he tried to maintain he was a mortgage advisor, as well as being an IT salesman, he could no longer afford the payments on his own property.
"He is a man that owned nothing but owed everything.
"His family have been destroyed by his sick actions. He is one of the worst criminals I have ever come across.
"The severity of what he did, the number lives he has affected, you only need to talk to the families of his victims to know they will never recover.
"His crimes will stick in the mind of this generation, much like the Moors murderers did in the 1960s."