A Warwick man has been jailed for 20 months after trawling the internet with ‘a degree of determination’ in a bid to find an under-age girlfriend - and was caught after contacting a decoy profile.
Thinking he had made contact with a willing 13-year-old called Sienna, Craig Withey turned up to meet her in a park with a blanket on which he planned to have sex with her.
But she did not exist, and instead he was met by members of a vigilante group who had placed the fake profile online.
He pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to two charges of attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and two of attempting to incite girls to view indecent images he had sent of himself.
And after an adjournment for a schedule to be prepared, he asked for eight further offences of attempting to incite other girls to engage in sexual activity to be taken into consideration.
Withey (31) of St Michaels Road, Warwick, was jailed for 20 months by Judge Peter Cooke who also ordered him to register as a sex offender for ten years.
At an earlier hearing prosecutor Sophie Murray said: “This is a case involving vigilantes, in which Mr Withey was engaging in inappropriate sexual communication with children.”
During online chats with two 13-year-old girls called Sienna and Sami, he asked them to send him intimate pictures, and sent them indecent images of himself.
In February Withey asked Sienna to meet him in St Nicholas Park in Warwick, turning up with a blanket with the intention of having intercourse with her.
But Sienna was a fake profile posted by members of a vigilante group who confronted Withey and contacted the police.
Following his arrest the police found chat logs on his phone which Judge Cooke said revealed he had been in contact with a number of other girls – and it was at the judge’s insistence that the list of other offences was prepared.
Of those, Miss Murray said at the resumed hearing: “We can’t be sure of the identities of those other people, and we therefore cannot be sure they are not further paedophile hunter profiles.”
And Judge Cooke indicated: “I will deal with it on the basis that they were also not real girls.”
Lee Masters, defending, said: “Your Honour knows we arranged a conference with Mr Withey at this building when these further matters were discussed with him, and he fully accepted he had carried out that course of conduct.
“I ask Your Honour to take into account the remorse Mr Withey feels, not only for what could have been potential victims, but for his family.
“The effect this offending has had on them as a family, they have expressed to me that they feel a burden of guilt that they were not aware of this offending or the difficulties that led Mr Withey to this offending.
“Thankfully no children have come into contact with Mr Withey, so whether he would actually have taken part in the acts which were being discussed is a moot point.”
Mr Masters pointed out that Withey used his own name and photograph, and was not pretending to be someone younger than he was, and had no indecent images of children on his computer.
He added that Withey’s parents had been seeking help for him to ensure there was no repeat of his behaviour, and had ‘grave concerns’ over his ability to survive in a custodial environment.
But Judge Cooke observed: “What the TICs now reveal is how determinedly he was trawling on the internet, trying to attract girls of that age for sexual encounters.”
Jailing Withey, he told him: “You embarked on internet searching for girls, as you believed them to be.
“I know two of them were not girls, but fictional people created by vigilantes who think it’s their role to trap people with an interest in contacting children on the internet.
“But what your intention was is made perfectly plain by a number of factors.
“The first is that, having arranged a meeting with one of these girl identities, you brought with you a blanket to put down on the ground, plainly expecting that that sexual encounter you had talked about would take place.
“You were trawling to find a girlfriend. It is quite clear to me that your clear intention was to engage in sexual activity with any of these girls who proved to be willing.
“This is a determined trawl for girls in that age bracket to engage in sexual contact with them.
“If you had established communication with a real girl, the probation service has no doubt, and I have no doubt, you would have followed it through with sexual activity.
“As it stands, you represent a high degree of risk to girls in that age bracket.”