Prolific rapist Jason Lawrance has been found guilty after an intensive investigation by Derbyshire police.
A 'dangerous predator', Lawrance is described as going from 'victim to victim targeting them through online dating sites’.
He used the site Match.com to meet seven divorced or widowed women, including three victims from Derbyshire, and arranged to meet them in person, but investigators believed he contacted 'several thousand' over a five-year period.
He has now been found guilty of raping five women he met though the dating website, and faces jail after his trial at Derby Crown Court.
Derbyshire police said the 50-year-old persuaded his victims to give him their personal contact details by claiming he could not upload a photo to his online profile.
A spokesperson added: "When they asked to see his image, he said he would send one to their personal email instead and he would then move the conversation away from the Match.com messaging system.
"After meeting his victims in person, Lawrance then raped, tried to rape, or sexually assaulted the seven victims.
Lawrance, of Arundel Close, Liphook, Hampshire, denied five counts of rape, one attempted rape and one sexual touching but was found guilty by a jury at Derby Crown Court following a two-week trial.
Praise for victims' courage
Detective Chief Inspector Allison Rigby, who led the police investigation, said: “The bravery of Jason Lawrance’s victims has undoubtedly prevented further rape of other women.
“Jason Lawrance is a prolific, serial rapist who preyed on women he had contacted through Match.com.
“These women were looking for companionship and instead what they found was a man who was willing to commit serious sexual offences against them.
“The victims are completely unconnected to one another and from different areas of the country, but they have all told a similar story about Jason Lawrance.
“After contacting his victims online, Lawrance would quickly move the conversation outside Match.com system. He then raped, tried to rape, or sexually assaulted these women, and afterwards he tried to defend his actions by claiming they had consented to it.
“They absolutely did not.”
Lawrance had been a member of the international dating site Match.com since 2009 and met all of his victims through the site, said police.
"It is believed that he made contact with several thousand women between 2009 and 2014, a number of whom he may have met in person," they added.
The Derbyshire police investigation – dubbed Operation Seaboard – was launched in November 2014 when one of Lawrance’s victims made a report of rape to the force.
Throughout the course of the inquiry, Lawrance’s network of contact through Match.com was unearthed and examined, and several further victims were found.
His offences took place across the country, with victims in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire.
DCI Rigby added: “Throughout the trial he denied any wrongdoing and as a result, he forced his victims to relive their ordeals in court.
“I would like to publicly thank each victim of Jason Lawrance. These women showed extreme determination and bravery in speaking to the police and in coming to court to give evidence in front of their attacker.
“Without their help, it is possible that Lawrance could still have been free to target more women and commit further serious sexual offences.”
As part of the investigation, Derbyshire Constabulary worked closely with Match.com to identify Lawrance’s dating network and trace the victims.
Officers also worked with experts from the National Crime Agency, who have supported and advised throughout the investigation.
The National Crime Agency has recently issued its new advice, along with a Sexual Assault Support Hub, offering information and advice to people who are victims of sexual offences.
The pages can be found at www.derbyshire.police.uk/SASH. There is further information and advice for people at www.getsafeonline.org.
DCI Rigby said she hoped the conviction of Lawrance would encourage victims of rape, sexual assault or other sexual offences to come forward.
She said: “Lawrance preyed on women who were more mature, or had said on their profile that they were widowed or divorced.
“I would like to stress that anyone who is a victim of a sexual offence will be treated seriously and sensitively, regardless of the circumstances.
“I would appeal to other victims of sexual offences to contact the police or organisations such as Rape Crisis, which are dedicated to helping victims of sexual offences and can help if you don’t want to talk to the police.
“I hope this case will give other victims the confidence and belief to come forward. You will be believed, you will be supported and, as the verdict today proves, we will work with you to take these dangerous sexual predators off the streets and put them behind bars.”
Dangerous sexual predator
Sue Matthews, Senior Crown Prosecutor at the CPS East Midlands rape and serious sexual offences team, said: “Jason Lawrance is a dangerous sexual predator. He has gone from victim to victim, targeting them through online dating sites.
“Nobody should feel that meeting people through a dating site means that they are consenting to any sexual activity. If a person does not consent to sexual activity and the perpetrator does not reasonably believe they are consenting, that is an offence, regardless of how the victim meets the perpetrator, or how well they know each other.
“The victims in this case have shown real courage in telling the court about their ordeal. It is their evidence that has made Lawrance face the consequences of his actions. I would like to thank them all for coming forward and giving evidence.”
Anyone who wants to report a sexual offence or concerns about someone’s behaviour can do so in a number of ways.
If you want to speak to the police, you can do so by calling 999 in an emergency, such as if an offence is taking or has just taken place. You can also call 101 if it is not an emergency.
You can also call Crimestoppers, the independent charity, on 0800 555 111. All calls are anonymous and no names, phone numbers or addresses are recorded.
There are also a number of charities and organisations offering support and advice to people affected by sexual offences.
For more information, please visit the Sexual Assault Support Hub on the Derbyshire Constabulary website – www.derbyshire.police.uk/SASH.
Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles said the popularity of dating websites such as Match.com meant it was essential that people were aware of safety advice and the support that is out there if a crime occurs.
He said: “This is a truly shocking case in so many ways and the courage of the victims in helping to secure this conviction should be applauded. It was a complex police investigation into a string of attacks against women and I’m pleased to see the person responsible has been brought to justice for his despicable crimes.
“Personal safety advice used to incorporate avoiding walking alone down dark alleys at night, but the internet can be the darkest alley of all. Clearly the popularity of any website where personal information is required does raise the question of security and more needs to be done to keep people aware of the dangers. The police, specialist crime agencies and website experts must really focus hard on improving security and safety nets in all areas of internet usage.
“The outcome of the trial also highlights that Derbyshire Constabulary will treat allegations of sexual violence seriously, investigate thoroughly and treat the victims with sensitivity and respect. I’m aware of the excellence of the victim care provided in Derbyshire and hope that this verdict will encourage anyone else unfortunate enough to be a victim to come forward and report such attacks and help to stop the potential for a series of offences by the same person.”