What turned this ‘perfect’ babysitter, 17, into a monster who preyed on the little ones in her care? The answer horrified even her own unwitting parents: an ex-policeman groomed her for his own sick pleasure
- Sophie Elms came across as law-abiding young woman from ‘really nice family’
- But Swindon teen had been groomed by men on the internet since the age of 13
- Ex-policeman David Geering, 59, met her online in 2017 and seized opportunity
- He instructed her to abuse infant sisters and send images and videos to him
Naive: Sophie fell under the online spell of a known paedophile
Sophie Elms had the most reassuring CV for a babysitter. She was taking a course in childcare at Swindon College and, as part of her training, was on work placement at a nursery.
What parent wouldn’t trust such a person?
There was nothing in her background to suggest she was anything but a conscientious, law-abiding young woman. To this day, she can be seen on social media attending happy family gatherings, getting ready to go out (in a polka-dot dress) and cuddling her pet terrier, Chalkie (‘Sophie chilling with Chalkie’ is the caption under one photograph).
‘Sophie is from a really nice family,’ said someone who lives a few doors away from her and her parents in Royal Wootton Bassett, the Wiltshire market town on the outskirts of Swindon. ‘If ever I bump into them in town, they will always stop and chat.’
Yesterday, however, the door of the red-brick end-of-terrace remained closed and the curtains at every window were drawn. It was as if there had been a bereavement. Indeed, for the teenager’s closest relatives — especially her mother — the recent, utterly shocking revelations about her daughter must truly feel like a death in the family.
Sophie, now 18, was jailed this week for molesting two sisters, both infants, when she herself was 17. She is believed to be one of the UK’s youngest-ever female paedophiles.
There are few taboos left in Britain today, but surely female paedophilia is one of them. Such abuse, when it occurs, seems more abhorrent, more unsettling, because cultural stereotypes reinforce society’s view of women as carers and nurturers. They are, after all, our mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers. They are also most likely to be our babysitters.
Elms, outwardly at least, seemed sensible and good-natured. She had done safeguarding training at college. She ticked all the boxes for the couple who would hire her to look after their beloved children aged two and three years old.
Not in a million years would they have imagined she might harm their little girls, let alone do so sexually.
There was nothing in her background to suggest she was anything but a conscientious, law-abiding young woman
The extent of her grotesque betrayal was spelled out on the indictment at Swindon Crown Court this week: two charges of sexual assault by penetration, two charges of sexual assault by touching, four charges of taking indecent images, six charges of distributing indecent images, and two charges of possessing extreme pornography. There were 16 charges in all.
These are crimes normally associated with men, not women.
The father of her victims read a heartbreaking ‘impact statement’ to the court when Elms was sentenced to seven years and ten months a few days ago. She had pleaded guilty at a previous hearing last year.
‘The damage Sophie Elms caused to our family is unimaginable,’ he said, his voice conveying both anguish and anger.
He said his youngest daughter (now aged three) still had ‘night terrors’ at bedtime, which were ‘very distressing as we can see her kicking and she says “get off me”.’
Elms, sitting a few feet away in the dock, broke down in tears when he relayed what she had put his family through. It was the first time she had shown remorse.
The father alluded to a Snapchat selfie that Elms had posted from her bedroom shortly before she arrived in court (last year) to enter her plea. ‘All ready for court,’ she wrote underneath, as if she was going to a party.
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Then, as she arrived in the courtroom, the father recalled in his statement how she had ‘looked right at me and smiled’, which was ‘beyond words’.
There are parallels between Sophie Elms and Vanessa George, from Plymouth, perhaps Britain’s most notorious female paedophile.
George, a married mother of two, was a nursery nurse who was locked up in 2009 for an indeterminate period of at least seven years after taking pictures of herself harming babies in her care.
She had come under the influence of a stranger whom she had met on the internet, who became her online lover and accomplice.
Like George, Elms carried out the attacks after a sex offender contacted her online and incited her to abuse the children and send him unspeakably horrific photographs of what she did on WhatsApp.
The paedophile in question, David Geering, was sentenced to 15 years in a separate trial in November last year. Geering, 59, is a former detective with the Metropolitan Police’s Homicide and Serious Crime Command.
Before the internet age, with its special talent for bringing together the desperate and the deviant, the paths of Sophie Elms and David Geering would never have crossed and two toddlers might never have been abused.
Sophie, now 18, was jailed this week for molesting two sisters, both infants, when she herself was 17. The girls’ father blasted Elms for a Snapchat selfie that Elms had posted from her bedroom shortly before she arrived in court (pictured last year) to enter her plea. ‘All ready for court,’ she wrote underneath, as if she was going to a party
So this is a very modern horror story — one that we can only hope will never be repeated.
Yet statistics tells us that female paedophilia is increasing. In 2017 — the latest year for which figures are available — 108 women were convicted of sexual offences. This was more than treble the number convicted a decade earlier.
The numbers are still small, however, and include cases of women sexually assaulting men, and teachers involved in sexual relationships with pupils which have attracted widespread publicity. The kind of abuse of pre-school children committed by the likes of Vanessa George and Sophie Elms, is, thankfully, much less common.
So Elms occupies a very dark place on the spectrum of depravity — yet there were few outward indications of her deviancy. Then again, there rarely are.
Elms lived with her mother and stepfather, who worked for a packaging company. On leaving school, she enrolled at Swindon College, which runs several ‘early years’ childcare programmes.
Neighbours said they occasionally saw her walking her dog. But she was ‘naive, immature for her age’ (the words of her barrister) and ‘lacking the social skills one might expect from an 18-year-old’.
These were the very things that made her susceptible to grooming.
Prominently displayed on an old Facebook profile, in which Elms says she likes Ice Age movies, Home Alone and EastEnders, is a love heart under the words: ‘In a Relationship.’
Elms (pictured arriving at Swindon Crown Court) receieved two charges of sexual assault by penetration, two charges of sexual assault by touching, four charges of taking indecent images, six charges of distributing indecent images, and two charges of possessing extreme pornography. There were 16 charges in all
With hindsight, this seemingly innocent personal detail might have had more sinister connotations.
Sophie Elms was 13 at the time. One of her friends had taken her mobile phone as a joke, the court heard, and set up an online dating profile for her, listing her age as 22.
This is revealing in itself — an insight into just how much the world has changed.
Soon, Elms started receiving messages. She ignored them — until she got a message from one person saying “Hi sexy”, her barrister revealed in mitigation this week.
Elms, he said, initially ignored this as well, but the ‘person’ was persistent and kept contacting her. Eventually she gave in and replied.
It would not be unreasonable to assume, then, that the individual with whom she announced she was ‘in a relationship’ on Facebook was not an innocent boyfriend but a dangerous predator.
Elms, at 13, was persuaded to send vile footage of herself to him from her webcam. The abuse continued for the next four years.
Police believe she was groomed by four different men online. One of them was Geering.
Geering had been a police officer for 27 years when, in 2008, he was convicted for the first time of distributing and taking indecent images of children and jailed for two-and-a-half years. On his release from prison, he moved from St Albans in Hertfordshire, where he had been living with his wife, and started a ‘new life’ in Shropshire. It is unclear whether his wife went with him.
But locals say he shared the four-bedroom townhouse in Shrewsbury, once home to his late mother, with a woman who hosted jewellery parties. Parked on the drive was a BMW.
David Geering was the perfect neighbour. Everyone said so.
‘He was one of the nicest people you could ever meet,’ said one resident in the cul-de-sac this week. ‘Nothing was too much trouble for him. He would offer lifts to our grown-up children. He would do the bins when we were away. He was just so thoughtful.’
Sophie Elms was 17-years-old at the time of the offences
Unbeknown to them, though, ‘nice, thoughtful’ David was a vile puppetmaster and paedophile who had begun controlling and corrupting a teenage girl more than 100 miles down the M5 in Wootton Bassett.
His ‘relationship’ with Sophie Elms began in 2017. Elms told detectives he must have obtained her details ‘from somewhere online’ and that she ‘liked talking to him’.
The timing of their online ‘meeting’ could not have been more tragic. Elms had just started babysitting. David Geering seized his opportunity.
At his behest, she sent him images and video of her sexually abusing the sisters left in her charge. Geering used the messaging service WhatsApp to share this filth with a group of paedophiles. Two mobile phones found during a police raid on his home revealed his involvement with the network and his links with Sophie Elms.
The repercussions have been truly devastating.
The mother of her victims wept in the public gallery this week as her husband read out the impact statement to the court.
‘All of us sleep in our bedroom now, and what was the girls’ bedroom is a closed, empty shell,’ he said. ‘Just having to leave the children at school or pre-school is a challenge to us, as this was the profession in which you were training.
‘You have made such an impact on us and our children that we don’t allow them to go round to their friends’ houses unless we are present. As a result, they are missing out on their own personal development.
‘In time we hope to regain our trust in people, but for now our fears remain. We feel trapped in our own home. It is almost as if we have been given a life sentence.
‘You have completely destroyed our lives. We cannot stay in Swindon for fear of one day bumping into you, and we have come to the conclusion it will be better for us to move. This whole horrific event has damaged our family beyond words.’
The judge, at least, acknowledged that Elms — who was accompanied by her mother — had been groomed by David Geering.
‘He bears responsibility,’ he said, but added: ‘To lay all the responsibility at his door is misleading and, in my judgment, wrong.
‘You were a victim but also a perpetrator. You wanted to appease the man towards whom you felt affection, and for jealous reasons you wanted his attention. You prioritised these things over the welfare of young, vulnerable children in your care.’
Perhaps more than anything, though, what was done to Sophie Elms, and what she did, is a warning — if one were needed — to all parents in the internet age.
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