October 2007

‘Web predator’ jailed for sex with 14-year-old girls

AN internet predator has been jailed for using the Bebo website to groom two 14-year-old schoolgirls for sex.

Andrew Beatson, 26, used the social networking website to befriend his first young victim after viewing her personal profile on the site.

The pair exchanged private messages over a four-month period before he coaxed the vulnerable young teenager to his Edinburgh flat and had sex with her.

The girl’s worried parents had reported her missing after she stormed out of the family home during an argument and stayed out all night. After discovering she had been with Beatson, the girl’s family alerted the police and had him charged.

But while on bail waiting to appear at court, jobless Beatson used the site to initiate a sexual relationship with another 14-year-old just four months later.

He was remanded in custody after being caught a second time with an underage girl he met through his “internet addiction”. In both cases, he was able to persuade the girls to pass on their mobile phone numbers and then befriend him.

Today, Beatson was sentenced to nine months in prison at Edinburgh Sheriff Court after admitting both counts of unlawful sex.

His solicitor, Angus McLennan, told the court that his client had sought counselling for his problems, including an internet addiction. But he insisted that Beatson had not been aware of his victims’ true ages and had merely been nave.

He said: “He did not seek out children. There was some degree of naivety as the girls described themselves as being over 16 and he did not think further inquiries needed to be made.

“There is nothing more sinister than that.”

But Sheriff Noel McPartlin rejected Beatson’s claims that he had been nave and branded him a “predator”.

He said: “The fact is that both girls were not much older than 14 when these offences took place. You initiated contact throught the internet, so it is very difficult to come to any other conclusion that your conduct is predatory by its very nature.”

He also advised Beatson that he would be supervised for a further nine months after his release and placed on the sex offenders’ register for ten years.

The offences took place in November 2006 and March 2007 at Beatson’s flat in Haileslands Gardens.

Following his plea of guilty six weeks ago, the former meter reader for Scottish Gas moved back to his parents’ home in Musselburgh.

The case has sparked fresh warnings from safety groups for parents to monitor their children’s use of websites like Bebo, Myspace and Facebook.

A spokesman for Bebo said: “Our site is policed very heavily but we have millions of users and so obviously problems do crop up. These kind of websites have taken off quite rapidly and so our safety guards are constantly evolving.

“We do take every issue very seriously and work in connection with a team of experts to try to improve our safety regulations.”

Bebo, which has 34 million users, now has a safety section in place on the website, which encourages its young users to report any unusual behaviour or indecent content.