Tuesday 20 August 2019

Man caught by vigilante 'paedophile hunters' as he tried to meet girl (13) for sex is jailed for six months

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Declan Brennan

A man who was caught by a vigilante 'sting' operation as he tried to meet a child to have sex with her has been jailed for six months.

Paul Fanning (59) asked for sexually explicit images from what he believed were two teenage girls he contacted through a dating website. The dating profiles were decoys set up by a group called “Emerald Hunters Ireland” in order to find potential paedophiles, the court heard.

Fanning contacted both the accounts and his messages became graphically sexual fairly quickly, Detective Garda David Ganley testified in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.

On February 10, 2018, Fanning asked “Ali”, whose profile stated she was 13 years old, to meet him and go for pizza.

He also suggested she could go back to his place and “have some hot sexy fun with me?”. An arrangement was made to meet the following afternoon in Merrion Square Park.

When Fanning went to the park he was confronted by the vigilantes and admitted to them he was there to meet the child. This confrontation was broadcast live on Facebook.

The group called gardaí and told them they were detaining a “paedophile”. When detectives came to the park they were given print outs of telephone text and social media conversations between Fanning and the fake profiles.

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Fanning denied he intended to have sex with “Ali”, but admitted he believed the accounts were for underage girls.

Dt Gda Ganley told Judge Pauline Codd that the Emerald Hunters Ireland group used adult women to set up fake profiles on dating websites for girls under the age of 16. He said the group's rules meant the profile must state clearly the age and must state they are on the site to meet friends.

He said the “decoys” do not instigate any chats of a sexual nature. The first decoy profile, "Holly", in this case was set up on dating-focused social network Badoo in January 2018. Soon after it was set up Fanning began to text to what he believed was a 14-year-old girl.

His profile had his photograph, age and a list of hobbies. Dt Gda Hanley said that reasonably quickly the chats became very sexual, with explicit graphical sexual references.

He said that Fanning had made the first contact and later invited the “girl” to send him sexual photographs and made sexual suggestions.

The second decoy, named “Ali”, was set up in February. Fanning again made contact and sent requests for sexually-explicit images before asking to meet up.

Fanning - formerly of Holles Row, Dublin city - pleaded guilty to attempting to communicate with a child for purposes of facilitating sexual exploitation of a child on dates between January 30 and February 11, 2018.

Judge Pauline Codd said that the courts must condemn the type of predatory behaviour and children must be protected.

She noted that loneliness led Fanning to go online when he was recuperating from a heart attack. A psychological assessment placed him at a moderate-to-low risk of re-offending.

Oisín Clarke BL, defending, said the type of group which set up this sting were more prevalent in the UK, where they had been the cause of some concern to investigating authorities.

He said his client's name and address were published online by the group and his house was subsequently attacked. His car was also damaged and he was threatened.

He had since moved out of the home he lived in for four decades and lost his job after 18 years of employment. He said his client had been remorseful from the very beginning and had lost everything.

He said that a psychological assessment stated Fanning was not predatory in behaviour and was unlikely to specifically seek out children.

Judge Codd said a Probation Service officer had accepted Fanning's expressions of remorse and shame as genuine and noted he now acknowledged the distress and harm his behaviour could cause to children.

Judge Codd said that it was important to state that gardaí were the sole persons with the right to investigate this type of offending. She said there were issues around legality of arrest and fundamental processes around prosecution.

The judge imposed a two-and-a-half year sentence, but suspended two years of this on condition that Fanning undergo therapy.

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