'An unusual case' - man posed as teen girl in private, sexually explicit online conversation
Suspended term for Bray man who posed as a 16-year-old girl
Two men who engaged in private, sexually explicit online conversations have been given one-year suspended sentences for the production of child pornography, although there was no actual victim involved.
In what a judge described as a 'very unusual' case, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard one of the men set up a fake profile posing as a teenage girl and exchanged private messages with the other man.
The men discussed the taking of virginity and then progressed to graphic conversations of rape with a fantasy element, the court heard.
Carl Byrne (28) of Glasnevin Downs, Dublin, and Aidan Lawlor (36) of Woodbrook Glen, Bray, Co Wicklow, both pleaded guilty to the possession, production and distribution of child pornography on March 7, 2013.
Judge Martin Nolan heard evidence in the case on Wednesday last, May 30, and adjourned sentencing overnight to consider his ruling.
Passing sentence on Thursday, Judge Nolan said although the conversations between the men were 'lurid and obscene', it was not the usual type of child pornography that came before the court.
'One of the parties pretended to be a 16-year-old girl and this brought these communications within the definition of the act, but the child pornography produced was of the lowest type,' said Judge Nolan.
'Were both men acting as adults, it may not have come before this court,' he remarked.
Judge Nolan ordered both men to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for one year.
The court heard Lawlor had set up the fake girl's profile while Byrne was the 'man' in the conversations.
Ronan Munro SC, defending Byrne, said the offence was 'very much at the outer limits of definition in the statutes' in relation to the depiction of children constituting child pornography.
'In this case, the depiction of children was in words, in prose. There were no actual children involved,' said Mr Munro.
Edmund Sweetman BL, defending Lawlor, said he initially found it difficult to advise his client given the unusual nature of the case, but that Lawlor had made it clear that he wanted to plead guilty.
'This speaks volumes as to his remorse,' said Mr Sweetman.
'Lawlor was pretending to be the victim. There was dangerous material being produced, but there was effectively no victim. It was a private chat line between two men,' he pointed out.
Garda Maria Clohessy told Elva Duffy BL, prosecuting, that gardaí became aware of an online conversation between someone with the username CarlB and a 16-year-old girl with the username SarahL on the website tag.com.
Gda Clohessy said the subject matter of the conversation was sexually explicit and that two IP addresses were traced to Byrne and Lawlor. Both men's houses were searched simultaneously by gardaí and a chat log was recovered from their computer hard-drives constituting child pornographic material.
Byrne has no previous convictions while Lawlor has nine previous minor convictions, mainly for road traffic matters.
Both men cooperated fully with gardaí, giving them access to phones, laptops, memory sticks, SIM cards and hard drives.
Mr Munro SC, defending Byrne, said his client has been in therapy since the time of the offence and that his risk of re-offending was low.
He said Byrne was isolated and bullied in school which led to social phobia, self-esteem and anxiety issues with which he was making progress. A large number of character references were presented on Byrne's behalf from his supportive family and from his boss.
Mr Munro said Byrne knew that what he did was utterly unacceptable and had shown remorse.
Mr Sweetman BL, counsel for Lawlor, said his client set up the fake girl's profile because he was depressed and lonely, not to seek sexual gratification.
He said Lawlor's long-term relationship broke down when he was made redundant and he went into a spiral of drinking and depression.
'He was in a very dark and lonely place and this gave him some succour,' said Mr Sweetman. He said that Lawlor's only online contact from this profile was with other men.
Lawlor was deemed as at low risk of re-offending and psychological reports described him as a 'vulnerable man' who had 'retreated into a fantasy world as an unhealthy coping mechanism'.
Mr Sweetman said his client was deeply remorseful and was grateful to gardaí who raided his house as he said this 'brought him back to earth' and helped him to 'turn his life around'.
The court heard that Lawlor works full time as a commercial driver and lives with his parents, who are dependent on him.