A father who had a breakdown after the death of his child was caught by so-called ‘paedophile hunters’ after trying to arrange to meet a girl for sex.
Ross Wilcox, 30, sent messages to an online account he believed belonged to a 14-year-old schoolgirl called Sarah and, after discussing sex, arranged a meeting.
But he had in fact been communicating with the group Dark Justice, whose members confronted him when he arrived at Newcastle’s St James Metro station for the rendezvous.
Wilcox, of Cramlington, Northumberland, has now admitted attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and was handed a suspended sentence.
His sentencing comes the day after a senior policeman admitted UK police forces may have to begin working with groups like Dark Justice, who have not been deterred by previous warnings not to get involved.
Prosecutor Neil Pallister told Newcastle Crown Court Wilcox had sent a message to the fake profile and the conversation quickly moved on to private, graphic, WhatsApp messages, despite him being told Sarah was just 14.
He later discussed if she wanted to ‘try sex’ and, within four days of getting in contact, arranged a meeting, the prosecutor said.
The court heard Wilcox, who had learning difficulties, was sectioned under the mental health act last August while grieving the death of his child.
Andrew Walker, defending, said an ensuing investigation and post-mortem revealed the child had died due to an infection.
Mr Walker said the tragedy had a ‘devastating’ effect on the family and Wilcox’s grief had an impact on his mental health.
Mr Walker added: ‘The reality is, for this defendant, despite this offence, he has never laid hands on a child inappropriately in his life.’
The judge, Recorder Simon Kealey sentenced Wilcox to 20 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, with rehabilitation requirements, sexual harm prevention order and sex offender registration.
The judge told him: ‘The fact you have been sectioned under the mental health act as a result of dealing with the death of a family member and the fact that when you were educated you were challenged with special educational needs are not just points of personal mitigation which are powerful in themselves but they are potentially causative features why you behaved as you did over those few days, out of character.’
The UK’s lead police officer on child protection has said forces will ‘potentially’ have to look at working with so-called paedophile hunters.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the national lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, spoke after figures obtained by the BBC show an increase in the number of cases where evidence gathered by paedophile hunters is being used.
He said: ‘I’m not going to condone these groups and I would encourage them all to stop, but I recognise that I am not winning that conversation.
‘I think (working with vigilantes) is something we’re going to have to potentially have to look at, yes, but it comes with some real complexity.’