A MIDDLE-AGED man attempting to make contact with a 14-year-old girl for sexual exploitation was caught in a 'sting' operation mounted by a group of vigilante paedophile hunters.
Tim Bowen (45) of Cottage View, Monkstown, Cork appeared before Cork Circuit Criminal Court on a signed plea of guilty to two charges.
Judge Sarah Berkeley was told that Bowen had gone to meet what he thought was an underage person for the purposes of sexual exploitation three years ago.
However, he was never in online contact with a child but rather with a group of what were described in court as "vigilante paedophile hunters”.
"The situation that came about was that Mr Bowen was apprehended in Cork by this group," Jane Hyland BL, for the State, told the court.
Ms Hyland said it was quite an unusual case in that regard.
Judge Berkeley heard the vigilante group – who were not named in court – mount internet operations to "ensnare" people attempting to make inappropriate online contact with children.
Gardaí were notified by the vigilante group of Bowen's actions and a full investigation commenced.
Bowen was charged that, between July 4 and July 26 2019, he attempted to contact a child by way of communication technology for the purpose of facilitating the sexual exploitation of that child.
The second charge was that, at Costa Coffee in Bishopstown, Cork on July 26, 2019, he attempted to intentionally meet a child for the purpose of doing something that constituted sexual exploitation of the child.
He appeared on a signed plea of guilty to both charges from Cork District Court.
Judge Berkeley was informed there was no actual victim per se as no child was involved and the 'sting' operation was mounted entirely by adults.
Defence counsel Sinead Behan BL said her client suffered from both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder.
However, she noted that he did not have a GP and there were no expert medical, psychologist or psychiatric reports before the court.
Judge Berkeley said it was a very serious matter.
"I think there really should be a forensic psychologist report. It is a complex [case] and the penalties involved are very severe."
Ms Behan said her client had already lost his full-time job as a result of the publicity surrounding his arrest, subsequent charge and court appearance.
His marriage had also ended as a result of the incident.
Ms Behan said he had also made a number of attempts at self-harm.
Judge Berkeley was told that Bowen had co-operated fully with gardaí investigating the matter.
Ms Hyland confirmed to the court that Bowen has no previous convictions in Ireland.
He had returned to Ireland in 2010 after a period living in the UK and inquiries with the British police indicated he had no previous convictions in that jurisdiction either.
Bowen had commenced online activity as his marriage began to break down.
The court heard that he had sexual activity online but this had not involved children.
As a result of his bipolar disorder, his depressive lows now leave him convinced "he is just not able to face the day”.
On the highs related to his illness, he is able to operate on a daily basis but can suffer from bouts of bizarre behaviour.
Judge Berkeley was told that a Safer Lives programme might prove to be very beneficial for the defendant.
While this is normally run under the supervision of the Probation and Welfare Service (PWS), Bowen was willing to consider involvement on a voluntary basis.
"A [forensic psychologist] report can only help," the judge said.
She directed that psychological and psychiatric reports be prepared.
An outline of the full facts of the case was adjourned, along with sentencing, until November 10 when the full medical and psychiatric reports will be available.
Bowen was remanded on continuing bail conditions to appear again before Cork Circuit Criminal Court next November.
Judge Berkeley granted free legal aid.