A Leamington man was trapped by a vigilante group after contacting someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl online and asking her to send him indecent pictures of herself.
And a judge told John Shepherd that although she did not condone the group’s activity, ‘the fact remains you were involved in a conversation with someone you believed was a girl of 13.’
Shepherd, 52, of Buckley Road, Leamington, had pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity.
Despite an argument for it to be suspended because he was the sole carer for his disabled partner, he was jailed for nine months and ordered to register as a sex offender for ten years.
Prosecutor Robert Underwood said Shane Brannigan was part of a group who trawled the internet looking for people who might have an interest in children - and placed a fake profile of a girl called Alice on a chat site.
It was not long before Shepherd made contact with the person he thought was 13-year-old Alice, but was in fact an adult female member of the group acting as a ‘decoy.’
He took part in conversations of a sexual nature with her and sent her a picture of himself before asking her to penetrate herself and send him pictures of her doing so.
Then in December 2016 Brannigan and another member of the group turned up at Shepherd’s home where they confronted him in an aggressive and threatening manner before calling the police, who arrested him, added Mr Underwood.
Jonathan Coode, defending, said: “It is a vigilante case. All I will say about the offending itself is that it is not very pleasant reading.”
He said Shepherd was adamant he was messing around on the internet, and although he accepts he thought it was a 13- or 14-year-old girl, there was no intention to meet.
“Both of the decoys Mr Brannigan had recruited said no real plans had been made to meet up, and Mr Shepherd says it was something of a fantasy activity.”
Mr Coode pointed out that Shepherd, who himself suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the sole carer for his ‘extremely disabled’ partner, doing everything for her, including preparing all her meals and drinks and taking them to her upstairs at their home.
He has done so for seven or eight years, and without his assistance she struggles to get downstairs.
Although Social Services have said a care package could be put into place, it would be difficult to provide then level of care needed because they believe the majority of care agencies would refuse to enter the property because of the state it is in.
“Through his mistake he has put their peace and quiet and their co-existence in jeopardy. He has already had, not through the courts but through this vigilante set-up and what followed, considerable punishment.
“He has been threatened in the street, and someone ran him down on his bicycle, and he was badly injured and his bicycle destroyed,” added Mr Coode, urging the judge to pass a suspended sentence.
But jailing Shepherd, Recorder Anupama Thompson told him: “What you tried to do was to incite a child to engage in sexual activity over the internet.
“You were arrested following a campaign by a vigilante group who term themselves paedophile hunters.
“They had placed a fake profile in the name of Alice, pretending to be a 13-year-old, and shortly after that you made contact with her, and a highly sexualised conversation ensued.
“You were confronted by this group at your address, and it was live-streamed on Facebook.
“I do not condone that activity, but the fact remains you were involved in a conversation with someone you believed was a girl of 13 years of age.
“I accept you had no intention to meet her, and that it was something of a fantasy, and I accept you are the sole carer for your extremely disabled wife who relies on you for her day-to-day care.
“However, the fact remains that this is an extremely serious offence. You thought you were communicating with a 13-year-old child. Only an immediate sentence is appropriate.”