A paedophile church minister who used his social skills as a priest to groom young boys whom he subjected to sickening sex attacks was jailed for life yesterday.
Simon Thomas was told by Judge Jeremy Burford QC at Southampton crown court that he would serve a minimum of eight years in prison before being eligible for parole.
Thomas, who is 44 and married with four children, was also given a sex offenders' prevention order banning him from communicating with children. He was banned from working with children and placed on the sex offenders register for life.
Thomas, who served as a minister with the United Reformed Church in Hythe, Hants, pleaded guilty last month to 35 charges including two offences of rape against an 11-year-old boy.
Other offences included taking indecent photos of children and indecency with sexual activity with a child, involving nine boys aged between 11 and 15.
It emerged earlier this week that Thomas committed the majority of the offences after the police and the church received a warning of him having sexual liaisons with minors he met on internet chat rooms.
He was questioned in 2003 but police halted the investigation without checking his computers because the tip-off was anonymous.
The court heard that Thomas would contact young boys through internet chatrooms, where he would use a combination of flattery and obscenity to seduce them into meeting him.
When police examined computers seized from his home they discovered a schedule of 1,200 names of people he had met on the internet, 97 of whom were boys aged under 16. The chart included details of the boys as well as comments about them.
The court heard that Thomas got some of his victims to expose themselves on webcams and also showed his naked body to them over the internet. He arranged to meet four of the boys in town centres, from where he drove to secluded spots where he abused them. He also met one boy at his home, where he seduced the boy into performing a sex act on him before he raped him.
Speaking outside court, the father of a 14-year-old boy who was sexually abused by Thomas said he was pleased his son's attacker would not be released until he was deemed safe.
He said he found it difficult to sit in the same room as the defendant. He said: "He's a monster. There was no remorse on his face. I tried to hold his gaze as long as possible and I could see no acknowledgement that he has done anything wrong."
The father said he blamed the church for failing to act on the warning given to it in 2003 about the defendant's use of the internet to contact young boys. "In Thomas's warped mind, he would have felt that his actions had been condoned."