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Sex offender jailed after police caught him in sting

Howard Blackburn, aged 27 years of St Leonards Court, Cockermouth, has been sentenced to four years at Carlisle Crown Court today.

On Monday 5th August 2013, Blackburn was arrested by officers from Cumbria Constabulary’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit after he arranged to meet who he thought was a 13 year old girl in Whitehaven. The 13 year old girl he was interacting with via an internet chat room was in fact a Police Officer.

Blackburn’s arrest was as a result of a proactive policing operation which commenced in late July 2013, when Blackburn used the Badoo chat site to engage with who he thought was a 13 year old girl. He went on to highly sexualise the conversations, and over the following days he carried out sexual grooming and arranged a meeting in Whitehaven.

When Blackburn turned up at the pre-arranged meeting place, he was immediately arrested by waiting Police Officers on Monday 05 August 2013.

He was charged with an offence of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming and remanded in custody, and also later charged with attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity.

Officers from West Cumbria’s Public Protection Unit then carried out an extensive investigation in relation to establishing whether Blackburn had conversed with other genuine teenage girls. As a result of that investigation, Blackburn was charged with four further offences of attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity.

Blackburn pleaded guilty to all of the offences, and also an additional offence of possession of cocaine.

On Monday 23rd December 2013, Blackburn appeared at Carlisle Crown Court where he was sentenced to four years imprisonment. He will also be subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order which will restrict his usage of the internet once released from Prison to ensure he cannot engage with young children.

He received three two-year sentences that run concurrently and two two-year sentences that run concurrently and consecutively. Blackburn was also ordered to sign the sex register for life.

Speaking after the sentence, Detective Chief Inspector Rob O’Connor of Cumbria Constabulary, said: “Blackburn’s arrest was as a result of a proactive operation conducted by the Police to ensure that young children can use social media and remain safe. Although the offence which lead to his arrest involved an undercover Police Officer, the further enquires we carried out indicated that Blackburn was using chat rooms to have highly sexualised conversations with a number of teenage girls.

“He made detailed plans to arrange and meet who he thought was a 13 year old girl for his own sexual gratification. His arrest and sentence should send a real strong message out to others that we are watching them, and we will target them with a view to putting them in front of the Courts with the assistance of other partner agencies. The Crown Prosecution Service have played an integral role in ensuring a successful conviction.

“Once released from Prison, Blackburn will be subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order. This order will place restrictions on his use of the internet which will ensure he cannot target young girls again in the same manner. His custodial sentence will give him the time to reflect on his actions, and my message is simple that we will target others if they engage in similar activity to Blackburn.

“I want to reassure parents that Cumbria Constabulary is fully committed to ensuring children in the County remain safe, and the use of an undercover Police Officer demonstrates that we have a number of tactics available to us. I want to reiterate previous messages to ensure that our children are safe when on online. Our recent internet safety campaign highlighted some of the ways in which parents can help to ensure their child’s safety, and also the work we are doing to tackle child sexual exploitation. For more information , please visit http://www.cumbria.police.uk/advice-and-information/online-safety.”

Judge Hughes said: ”It is a sad factor of modern society that children lose their innocence much faster than time gone by.”

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