Father of victim speaks out and hopes others will be spared his agony
PARENTS are being warned of the dangers of social networking websites by a city father whose 14-year-old daughter was groomed for sex by a man she chatted with on the internet.
William Hart, 22, had sex with the girl on two occasions after meeting her at a party and swapping mobile phone text messages and emails through the MySpace social networking site.
Hart, of St David’s Hill, was given a nine-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, at Exeter Crown Court yesterday.
He must also be supervised for two years, complete 150 hours of unpaid work in the community and sign the sex offenders’ register for five years.
Hart, who has previous convictions for dishonesty, had pleaded guilty to two offences of sexual activity with a child under 16.
Police have praised her brother for printing off emails from the girl’s account on the site to help them with their investigation.
Her father told the Echo, after the sentencing: “I really want to urge parents of teenage children to check social networking websites very carefully. We were a normal family and certainly didn’t expect something like this would ever happen to us.
“It’s had a massive impact upon all of us. Our daughter’s innocence has been taken away.”
Detective Constable Mark Wadeley-Jones, officer in charge of the case, is also encouraging parents to use the safety features which are available on sites such as MySpace.
The court heard that the pair sent each other emails via MySpace after meeting in April last year, then arranged to meet in the grounds of County Hall, Topsham Road, where they had sex.
When she then emailed Hart to ask why he was now ignoring her, he said: “Well, someone told me you’re 14, and I’m 21.”
She claimed that she was 15, to which he replied: “I don’t mind 15, ha ha, so when do you want to meet me then?”
They met for sex again, after which the girl confided in her cousin because Hart was again ignoring her. The cousin sent Hart a text message to warn him off and alerted relatives, who contacted police.
Defence counsel Fiona Elder said that Hart pleaded guilty on the basis that he initially thought the girl was 17, although he was aware that she was underage when they met for sex, and that it was consensual.
She added he wanted to apologise to the girl and her family and that he was now sorting his life out, with a girlfriend and young child to support.
Judge Graham Cottle said the girl had been put through severe distress by Hart changing his plea at the last minute, and ordered him to pay £1,250 costs.
He told him: “You manipulated her and satisfied your own selfish sexual desires.
“Bearing in mind the age difference between you, what you did was serious.”
The girl’s father spoke to the Echo because he wanted to thank Det Con Wadeley-Jones, other police officers, the courts, Crown Prosecution Service and the NSPCC for their support.
He also voiced his disgust that Hart left it so long to plead guilty, meaning the victim was unable to have personal counselling in case it affected the trial.
He said: “We are very proud of our son, who printed off the emails before they could be automatically deleted.
“My daughter, my son and their cousin were very brave, as they faced giving evidence.
“My daughter felt physically sick at the thought of a trial, especially at her young age, although we are grateful for all the support she has received.
“Hopefully, this man’s conviction will save another family from heartache and we can now move on.”
A spokesman for MySpace has previously insisted the company was “deeply committed to the safety and security of all users, especially teenagers”.
“We recognise our responsibility to keep MySpace as safe an environment as possible so people can enjoy it to its maximum,” the spokesman said.
Man warned over breach of sentence
William Hart, 23, of St David’s Hill, Exeter, admitted breaching his sentence for a second time, by repeatedly failing to turn up for unpaid work in the community, when he appeared before Exeter Crown Court.
He was convicted of two offences of sexual activity with a female child under 16, at the crown court in July last year. Hart had been given nine months in prison, suspended for two years, with supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work.
Judge Graham Cottle had warned it was his “last chance” when he admitted a breach in May and was given a further 50 hours of unpaid work. The judge yesterday told him he had one month to complete the remaining 47 hours or he face jail.
Prosecutor Garth Richardson said Hart repeatedly failed to turn up to do unpaid work in August and last month.
Defence counsel Michael Brabin said Hart had to help his mother out in a family emergency, running her hotel in St David’s.