PREP TEACHER TRIAL: A WEBSITE normally used to reunite old schoolfriends helped snare paedophile Peter Hamilton-Leggett.

Det Sgt David Martin used Friends Reunited to track down former pupils of the Old Ride School, Bradford on Avon.

This unusual step was taken after he found all the school's records had been lost.

DS Martin's hard work and initiative was praised during the sentencing of perverted teacher Hamilton-Leggett at Swindon Crown Court on Tuesday.

Judge Thomas Longbotham said: "This has been a very extensive inquiry.

"It seems to me it is right that this court should commend DS Martin for his work in this case."

Police admit they were faced with an enormous task in tracking down all the former pupils of two schools who had been abused over a 16-year period.

By sending an e-mail using the Friends Reunited site, police were able to track down some of the boys who had been attacked.

The message was specific but did not give details on who, or what, was being investigated or the period of time covered. DS Martin said: "They were contacted in such a way to ensure it did not prejudice the investigation.

"I wanted to ensure all the information was from them and that they did not know each other or contact each other."

Shortly after the e-mail went out a trickle of replies came from men, now in their 30s and 40s, with similar horrific stories about sexual abuse.

"I sat down near the end of my shift and started the process of sending out the e-mails," said DS Martin. "By the time I had sent my 30th e-mail there had already been three or four replies."

With the help of newspaper publicity more people came forward until, eventually, DS Martin was able to put together a case file containing complaints from 19 men totalling 54 offences.

He said: "It was about shaking the tree and seeing what fell out."

David Fisher, of Friends Reunited, said: "From time to time we are asked to help the police with their inquiries.

"As with this particular case we are always happy to co-operate where possible."