A scout leader who told boys to send him pictures of their bodies to get their fitness badge has been jailed for 11 years.
Teaching assistant Antony Allen, 27, would also pounce on victims in the toilet and persuade them to join him in his tent during camping trips.
Allen would ingratiate himself so firmly into the children’s families, to the point where he would run errands and take the boys out on one-on-one day trips.
He was convicted abusing eight children from the 25th Newham East Scout Group aged between eight and 16.
Allen also kept 30 pictures of children he knew on his computer, alongside other indecent images and videos of children.
He abused the children at varying times over a four-year period from January 2013 and September 2017 at home address and scout camps in Essex, Kent and Wales.
Jurors heard the ‘pattern of grooming’ included initiating text message conversations with the boys, using ‘banter’ to lure them in before progressing into inappropriate chat about ‘male physique’.
He would use explicitly sexual language and ask victims to send him photos of them exercising bodies as ‘evidence’ for their progress towards a so-called fitness badge, it was said.
One victim, who was just ten-years-old at the time, said he thought sexual touching had occurred on 60 to 100 occasions, Snaresbrook Crown Court heard.
A 13-year-old boy was assaulted in his bedroom while the boy’s mother and younger sibling were downstairs in the garden.
Another victim told police that Allen was looked up to as a role model by members of the group who viewed him as a second father.
One victim even called him ‘Dad’, it was claimed.
The allegations came to light when one of the victims told his mother about the abuse in a bid to protect his younger brother, who was due to move up from cubs into Allen’s scout group.
His mother was said to have initially thought the claims were a joke but a police investigation was launched after the boy made allegations to relatives.
Allen was also working as a teaching assistant and a learning mentor at a primary school.
He had previously enlisted as a volunteer in the TA and had been deployed to Estonia for training with the 7 Rifles G company, based in West Ham.
Allen was abroad with the unit when the allegations surfaced and he was flown back to England and arrested at Heathrow Airport in September 2017.
He was released on bail and left ‘suicide notes’ at several of his victim’s homes.
PC Bruce Upson, from the Child Abuse and Sexual Offences Command (CASO), said: ‘These children have shown great courage throughout the investigation. Their actions in finding the strength to come forward and report the matter has prevented other potential offences occurring.
‘Allen was a predatory offender who used his well-established position as a scout leader to gain access to children and commit sexual offences against them whilst along the way earning the respect and trust of families.
The mother of one of the younger victims, speaking after court, said: ‘I’m really hurt by what Antony has done as he has taken what can never be replaced.
‘His actions have impacted on our day to day lives as he didn’t just abuse him physically but has scarred him mentally for life. He has left us shocked to the core and we will never trust anyone again.
‘He had a group of children that was full of life and working towards bettering themselves and their community but took this opportunity to gain trust then abuse it.
‘My heart goes out to the families of all the victims that have been taken in and had their trust abused. I can’t thank the police enough for all they have done to get this conviction – they have been amazing to me and to the child victims.’
Allen, of Plaistow, east London was convicted of six counts of sexually assaulting a child under 13, six counts of sexual activity with a child under 15 and possession of class ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ indecent images.