LONDON (Reuters) - A British man, described by prosecutors as a dangerous sexual predator, was found guilty on Wednesday of raping and assaulting women he met through the popular international online dating website Match.com.
Jason Lawrance, 50, was accused of using the website to make contact with seven divorced or widowed women and then arranging to meet them in person, having persuaded them to move their online conversations away from the Match.com messaging system.
When he met them in person, he raped, tried to rape or sexually assaulted his victims who came from all over Britain.
"Jason Lawrance is a prolific, serial rapist," said Detective Chief Inspector Allison Rigby who led the police investigation. "These women were looking for companionship and instead what they found was a man who was willing to commit serious sexual offences against them."
Lawrance met all his victims through Match.com, which he had joined in 2009. Police said they believed he had contacted several thousand women over the next five years, a number of whom he might have met in person.
He raped his first victim in 2011 having previously met her a few times. He tricked her into getting into a van, took her to a dark country lane and then attacked her. Other victims were raped or attacked in hotel rooms or their own homes.
Lawrance was convicted at Derby Crown Court in central England of five counts of rape, one attempted rape and one sexual assault. He will be sentenced on Thursday.
"We are very sorry for those affected and appalled by these terrible acts," said a spokesman for Match.com.
He said the website was working with a personal safety charity to ensure its internal safety processes were as secure as possible.
"Nobody should feel that meeting people through a dating site means that they are consenting to any sexual activity," said Sue Matthews from Britain's Crown Prosecution Service.
"If a person does not consent to sexual activity and the perpetrator does not reasonably believe they are consenting, that is an offense, regardless of how the victim meets the perpetrator, or how well they know each other."
Reporting by Michael Holden, editing by Estelle Shirbon