A paedophile who sexually abused a girl with learning difficulties was caught when he mistakenly sent social media messages to her mum admitting his crimes.
Bradley McGarrell thought he was communicating via Snapchat with his 13-year-old victim, when in fact it was her mother who had the schoolgirl’s phone. The woman took screenshots of the 20-year-old predator’s confessions and passed them to police.
McGarrell, from the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey, will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty to three counts of sexual activity involving penetration by an adult on a child.
The pervert has also admitted meeting a child following sexual grooming, sexual communication with a child, and taking a photograph of his victim while engaging in sexual activity.
Sources close to the case told how McGarrell, who is on bail, has attempted to play down his crimes and told friends the teenager involved was 16-years-old.
However that is a lie — when McGarrell sexually abused the youngster in a wooded area of Rathcoole known as the Glen she had turned 13 just two weeks before.
A source said: “McGarrell met the young girl outside Tesco in Newtownabbey in August 2021. He was 18 at the time and she had just turned 13. The girl was clearly underage, and looked it.
“McGarrell asked her for her Snapchat code and then started to send her messages. Later that day he sent her sexually explicit videos and then told her to meet him at the Glen.”
McGarrell was well aware of his victim’s age — she told him she was 13 when they first met and in subsequent Snapchat messages throughout the day. The paedophile lied that he was 14 to win her trust.
The source added: “McGarrell made the young girl have sex with him in the Glen. She didn’t know what she was doing and he had to show her.”
The teenager, who has learning difficulties, returned home and later confided to her family that she had sex with what she believed was a 14-year-old boy.
She only told her concerned relatives after complaining of severe abdominal pains.
They tried to get her the morning after pill but were informed by a pharmacist that it could not be sold to children aged under 14.
They were instead advised to contact the PSNI and bring the girl to the Rowan Centre — a sexual assault referral complex in Belfast — so she could be examined.
Police officers interviewed the girl and took away her clothes for forensic examination.
Two days later, the victim finally gave her family the name of the adult with whom she had sex.
She said Bradley McGarrell had threatened her into keeping his identity secret.
It was after this that the 13-year-old’s mum accessed her daughter’s Snapchat and Instagram accounts.
The paedophile had messaged her saying “are you okay?”, “are we still close?”, and “do you want to meet up again?”
Using her daughter’s account, her mum replied “I’m not sure I’m, allowed out”. McGarrell responded by saying, “just ask anyway.”
This incriminating evidence was immediately passed to police who arrested the child abuser at his Newtownabbey work-place the following day.
By that stage, McGarrell knew he was in trouble as he had been sent an alert on Snapchat that screenshots had been taken of his messages. His final message to his victim’s account was “what the f**k?”
In his initial interviews with detectives, McGarrell denied any wrongdoing, but confronted with his social media confessions and damning DNA evidence he pleaded guilty to a catalogue of child sex crimes.
Since his court appearance in January he has attempted to play down his crimes, lying to the few people who knew that he was in court that his victim was aged 16 and not 13.
McGarrell also plastered pictures of himself celebrating his girlfriend’s 21st birthday on social media, posing arm-in-arm with her while holding balloons.
This was three days after he stood in the dock of Belfast Crown Court to plead guilty to sexually abusing a vulnerable child.
While McGarrell gets on with his life his victim is struggling to come to terms with the horror he inflicted upon her.
Sources close to the case told how a confident and outgoing schoolgirl has become reclusive and traumatised.
“The girl has changed completely. She is scared of men and rarely leaves the house, and when she does she is a nervous wreck,” said a security insider.
“That is all down to Bradley McGarrell. He is a dangerous paedophile who groomed and then sexually assaulted a vulnerable 13-year-old. He knew her age and he knew she had learning difficulties.
“If it wasn’t for the girl’s mum having the presence of mind to screenshot his Snapchat messages he might have got away with it.”
Our sources also urged any young girls who had previous contact with Bradley McGarrell to contact the PSNI.
One revealed: “Bradley was often seen in the company of teenage girls, and was known to take them for drives in his car. He is quite young looking himself, despite being 20, and could easily pass for a 15 to 16-year-old.
“I’d urge the parents of any teenage girl under 16, who might have concerns about his relationship with their daughter, to contact the police.”