“This is your one and only chance,” a judge told a Doncaster man after he handed him a suspended sentence for attempting to groom and meet a person he believed to be a 14-year-old girl.
Stephen Pittam began sending messages to a Facebook account belonging to someone who was purporting to be a 14-year-old girl in June 2017, with a profile picture of a child around the same age.
Sheffield Crown Court heard how the adult male operating the fake account with the name ‘Claire Austin’ told Pittam the decoy child was 14-years-old from the offset.
“The defendant said he was 52, and asked if that bothered her,” said Anthony Dunne, prosecuting.
Mr Dunne added: “The defendant asked to meet her so he could teach her about kissing.”
Pittam, of Gresley Road, Hexthorpe arranged to meet the girl, but was arrested by police instead.
When interviewed, Pittam, now aged 54, answered ‘no comment’ to all questions.
Mr Dunne told the court that in the days ‘immediately following’ his release from custody, Pittam continued to message another decoy account he believed belonged to another 14-year-old girl.
Pittam had also been sending messages to the same account in the weeks running up to his arrest.
Mr Dunne said: “The sexual contact occurred in the very beginning...the defendant suggested that they shower together. He asked her if she wore underwear and if she was shaved down below.”
Police arrested Pittam in connection with the messages he sent to second decoy account in March last year.
He answered ‘no comment’ to all questions once again.
He acknowledged his crimes when he entered guilty pleas to charges of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming and attempted sexual contact with a child.
Pamela Coxon, defending, said that while she had to concede that her client had continued to contact the second decoy account after his release from police custody, the messages he sent at that time were ‘not of a sexual content’.
“The psychologist says the defendant doesn’t have a learning disability, but does have cognitive limitations...she says an assessment for autism may be necessary,” said Ms Coxon.
Addressing Judge Peter Kelson QC, Ms Coxon added: “I seek to persuade you that any custodial sentence can be one that is capable of being suspended. The defendant pleaded guilty at the plea and trial preparation hearing.”
Judge Kelson sentenced Pittam to 12 months in prison, suspended for 24 months, made him the subject of a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO) and ordered him to complete up to 35 rehabilitation activity requirement days.
The purpose of a SHPO is to prevent an offender from committing more sexual crimes by imposing a strict set of conditions such as preventing an offender from owning an internet-enabled device on which it is possible to delete browsing history; and banning them from contact with children under the age of 16 unless they have permission from both the child’s parents or guardian and social services.
“Mr Pittam, you’re not getting away with it. If you’re tempted to use a computer or phone to start seeking out children to get together with them; if you’re tempted to ask them about their underwear or their private area – you will be caught and you will go to prison. You must take responsibility for your actions now, this is your one and only chance,” said Judge Kelson.