A TAUNTON man supplied four teenage girls with drugs before sexually exploiting them, a court has heard.

Austin Stuart Taylor, 21, has been jailed for nine years after being found guilty of multiple child sex offences at addresses in Minehead, Taunton and Wellington.

He was convicted of 15 offences against his victims, who were aged 13 to 17, between 2015 and 2017.

Stuart-Taylor admitted two counts of supplying Class A drugs and one of supplying a Class B drug at the start of his trial at Bristol Crown Court.

The jury found him guilty of three counts of sexual activity with a child; one of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity; three of possessing indecent images of children; one of offering to supply a Class A drug; three of offering to supply a Class B drug; and one of permitting a premises to be used for smoking cannabis. He had denied those 12 charges.

In addition to his jail sentence, he was also given a 10-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order, a 10-year restraining order against his victims. He will be on the Sex Offenders' Register indefinitely.

The court heard neighbours would often see girls in school uniform arriving at the properties occupied by Stuart-Taylor, who provided them with drugs such as cannabis, ketamine and MDMA.

The jury was told sexual images and moving video footage of children as young as three-years-old were found on Stuart-Taylor’s computer.

An examination of his phone also found a substantial number of photos of his genitalia, some of which were sent to his victims in an effort to groom them. He also repeatedly asked his victims to take indecent pictures of themselves and send them to him.

Investigating officer Det Sgt Phillip Clarke said: "Austin Stuart-Taylor is a manipulative individual who plied young girls with drugs in order to gain influence over them and abuse them.

"It’s clear he has a disturbing interest in young girls from the images found on his electronic devices.

"His actions were deliberate and calculated and there is absolutely no doubt he knew how old his victims were when he engaged in sexual activity with them.

"Together with Barnardo's Against Sexual Exploitation (BASE), support has been provided to all the girls through what has been a lengthy criminal justice process and I hope now that Stuart-Taylor has been handed a substantial prison term they can move on with their lives."

At today's hearing, the judge awarded commendations to DS Clarke, DC Paul Moares and investigations support officer Alan Chambers for their work on this investigation. The judge also awarded a commendation to Kate Chisnall from BASE.

Since June last year, police have introduced a partnership approach to tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Somerset which sees agencies share intelligence to investigative reports, catch offenders and support victims.

Operation Topaz, which was initially launched as pilot in Bristol in January 2017, allows officers to identify offending at an earlier stage.

Force lead for (CSE) Detective Chief Inspector Liz Hughes said: "With the introduction of Operation Topaz in Somerset we are now better equipped than ever to protect children and young people from sexual exploitation.

"The unique approach of Topaz allows us to identify offences early and, at times, offending which may not have ever come light at all. The partnership working also increases our ability to build relationships with those affected by abuse and provide them with support.

"By working together and sharing information we can help inform, educate and prevent this form of child sexual abuse from happening. But we and our partners can only do so much though and we still need the public’s help.

If you suspect a child or young person may be at risk, or have any information relating to CSE, call police on 101 or via avonandsomerset.police.uk/contact-us/report-a-crime-or-incident.

Or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800-555111.

If you know or suspect a child or young person is in immediate danger, dial 999 straightaway.