A TRIAL juror's Facebook "friendships" today triggered a sick paedophile's abortive attempt to clear his name.

Sex beast Colin Howells was locked up for 18 years at Bolton Crown Court in June last year, after being found guilty of a string of appalling crimes, including multiple rapes of a young girl.

The 50-year-old, of Annie Street, Ramsbottom, today challenged the jury's verdicts at London's Criminal Appeal Court, pointing to the social network as the potential source of his wrongful convictions.

His lawyers said that one of the jurors was friends on Facebook with two women who were observing the trial and that, had she made this known, it was likely she would have been discharged.

Howells' legal team also said the same juror had been "gossiping" in the local area about the jury's deliberations.

But, dismissing his appeal, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing said the "friendship" on the social network was nothing more than a 'superificial acquaintance', with only a very tenuous connection to Howells.

Sitting with Lady Justice Rafferty, she also said that, while it would be "deplorable" conduct if the juror had been discussing the deliberations in the local community, this could not undermine the convictions.

Howells raped and abused a young girl in the early 2000s. He denied any wrongdoing but was found guilty of 16 counts of rape, one of sexual assault and one of causing a female to engage in sexual activity without consent.

His lawyers said that none of the jurors, when asked, indicated that they knew anyone involved in the trial.

However it was later discovered that one of them was friends on Facebook with two women who had been sitting in the public gallery.

Dismissing the appeal, Mrs Justice Laing pointed out that the juror was one of over 1,500 friends the women had on Facebook and that there was nothing to suggest there was any real risk the juror was biased.

Sitting with Lady Justice Rafferty and Mr Justice Burnett, she added: "Here, there is the most tenuous acquaintance - we therefore reject the submission that the convictions are unsafe.

"We would add that, if it is the case that the juror has been discussing the jury's deliberations within the local community, that is deplorable and she should not have done that.

"But, even if she has done that, it can cast no doubt on the safety of the convictions."