June 2020

Pervert believed he was talking to children online when he discussed sex acts and meeting up

A sex offender who made explicit conversations online, believing he was speaking to children, has started a prison sentence.

James Stoddart, 38, thought he was in a chat with an underage girl for about three months, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Police arrested him and seized his devices when an adult posing as a child online reported concerns, said prosecutor Harry Hadfield.

The investigation revealed a string of conversations where he discussed sexual acts, sometimes with suggestions to meet up.

Stoddart interrupted from a prison video link: “I wouldn’t do that. I don’t even go out of the house. Never have for years and years.”

Two of the conversations were with a man and a woman pretending to be a child, said Mr Hadfield.

In the other chats, he said: “The police were unable to trace those with whom he’d been sexually communicating.

“The charges arise out of online chat that the defendant had with other users he believed to be children under 16.”

During one of the phone chats Stoddart sent an indecent picture of a child, in the most serious legal category, to the other person.

In a WhatsApp chat, it was suggested he sent a graphic image of himself.

Officers also found 35 child abuse images, still pictures which had been downloaded to his tablet.

Stoddart, of The Crescent, Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, admitted 10 charges spanning a period of more than two years.

They were six offences of attempted sexual communication with a child, three of making and one of distributing indecent images of children, between December 2015 and March 2018. He had no relevant previous convictions.

Judge Howard Crowson said he had to assume Stoddart never communicated with a real child but believed he had.

He said: “I will have to deal with him on the basis that there was no evidence that he ever spoke to a child.

“But he tried, and thought he was speaking to a child on every occasion.”

Sentencing, he told Stoddart: “The taking of an image is a terrible violation of that child. The violation is repeated with each viewing.

“You’ve been ready to offer indecent images.”

The judge said of the chats: “We know in two of those cases they were adults. In the others we don’t know.

“Therefore I must sentence you on the basis it’s not proved a child was in fact spoken to.

“With careful scrutiny of the transcripts it seems perhaps more likely that they were adults, or most of them, but it wasn’t clear to you.

“You thought you were speaking to young girls inexperienced in sexual matters.

“I cannot be sure that any child was harmed by the conversations.

“In every case you were encouraging sexual activity.

“There was a level of planning. You were looking to identify suitable targets.”

Stoddart was jailed for two years and eight months.

He was given a sexual harm prevention order banning contact or communication with under-18s and governing his use of the internet and devices, and will be on the sex offenders’ register, both indefinitely