Saturday 21 April 2018

Man who went to meet girl (14) he groomed online for sex confronted by 'paedophile hunter'

Convicted paedophile Mark Smith being detained by police in Swindon after the father-of-one thought he was meeting the teenage girl he had groomed on the internet for sex Photo: Danny Catcher/PA Wire
Convicted paedophile Mark Smith being detained by police in Swindon after the father-of-one thought he was meeting the teenage girl he had groomed on the internet for sex Photo: Danny Catcher/PA Wire

Rod Minchin

A man who thought he was meeting a teenage girl he had groomed on the internet for sex was instead confronted by a paedophile hunter, a court has heard.

Mark Smith arranged to meet a 14-year-old in Swindon town centre but was faced with a self-styled paedophile hunter using the alias "Danny Catcher".

The 28-year-old, a father-of-one, was detained by Mr Catcher, an undercover journalist, who then called police.

Swindon Crown Court heard Smith had thought he was meeting the teenager, called Lou, outside Primark on the afternoon of June 22 this year after grooming her on an online dating website.

Prosecutor Tessa Hingston said: "Matters came about in a somewhat unusual way but a way these courts are seeing more of.

"We know the defendant was encouraged to engage in some sort of sexual activity. We know this girl was 14 years old and wished to engage in some sort of sexual activity.

"On the flip side Mr Smith did say 'if you don't want to do anything I won't push you'. He does on several occasions say he wants to engage in sexual activity despite already knowing her age."

Smith admitted to police he had contacted the girl online and accepted he had arranged to meet her outside Primark to tell her he had changed his mind, the court heard.

At a previous hearing Smith, of Mulberry Grove in Swindon, pleaded guilty to charges between June 19 and 23 of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.

Tony Bignall, defending, said: "The author of the pre-sentence report does not describe him as predatory.

"This is a man who is facing his demons and is ready to work with the Probation Service."

Recorder Richard Onslow imposed a three-year community order with 25 days' rehabilitation and told Smith to attend a sex offenders' treatment programme.

He said: "Lou was not a 14-year-old girl but a character created by a man who set up to find those that trawl the internet, such as people like yourself and people worse than you.

"I have no doubt that your hopes of having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old girl were high, although you said she didn't have to if she didn't want to.

"In cases such as this I have to look at the harm you intended in the course of conduct reflected in these two offences.

"It is only because you are prepared to undergo rehabilitation that it is possible for me to adopt the course of action I propose to take. Had it not been for that you would be going immediately down the stairs.

"If you breach any of the orders I make you will be brought back and a judge will impose an immediate custodial sentence."

He added: "If you do anything like this again you know where you will be going."

Smith was also placed on the sex offenders' register for five years and given a sexual harm prevention order for five years.

Speaking after the case, Danny Catcher said: "I think it sends a strong message to people thinking about talking to or meeting children online.

"There is always a risk that the child could be a paedophile hunter and I sincerely hope my work stops people risking meeting to or talking to children online.

"Although it is welcome that this defendant has received a sentence for these offences it is not custody and that is highly disappointing.

"I hope that Mr Smith does change and never attempts anything like this again in his entire life."

Press Association

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