A Leamington man who met up with a 12-year-old girl who he ‘kissed and cuddled’ for his own sexual pleasure was caught after her father went out looking for her.
But Neville Sokhela claimed he believed the girl was 16 or 17 – until his solicitor and barrister spoke to him after they had seen her in the video recording of her police interview.
And he then pleaded guilty at Warwick Crown Court to inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.
Sokhela (32) of Tachbrook Street, Leamington, was jailed for three years and eight months, and was ordered to register as a sex offender for life.
Prosecutor Sarah Allen said that in December last year the 12-year-old girl’s father thought she was outside the front of their home, but when he went out she was not there.
He was told she had gone to her grandmother’s, but she was not there either, and when he spoke to a friend of hers he was told she was meeting a man.
So he went to look for her and saw her leaning into a car talking to someone who turned out to be Sokhela, but when he asked her she denied knowing who Sokhela was.
The father then approached the car and challenged Sokhela who said he was ‘just a friend’ of the girl, but then gave contradictory accounts of how he knew her.
When he was arrested Sokhela said he had first met her on social media and that she had told him she was 16, and they had begun to meet.
He said they had ‘kissed and cuddled,’ but he denied any more serious sexual conduct.
Sokhela entered his pleas on the basis that she had said she was 16, and they had only kissed and cuddled, apart from occasions when he had accidentally touched her as they were play-fighting.
Judge Barry Berlin observed: “In the pre-sentence report it says his thinking regarding the victim remains distorted, putting the blame on her rather than taking responsibility as the adult.”
Ian Speed, defending, said the guilty pleas came about after he and Sokhela’s solicitor had viewed the recording of the girl’s police interview, when ‘it was obvious his contention that she looked 16 or 17 was incorrect.’
The judge commented: “We’re talking about a child of 12, and he’s in his 30s. Whatever pejorative description you want to label her with, she was a child, and he knew she was a child.
“I am not going to sentence this defendant on the basis that she led him up the garden path.
“Anyone who is 31 and is kissing and cuddling a 12-year-old for sexual pleasure is in serious trouble.”
And jailing Sokhela, Judge Berlin told him: “Your basis of plea says you were told she was 16. I accept that, but you knew she wasn’t, whatever you were told.
“You knew she was much younger than that. Her mother found out and warned you, but you laughed it off.
“There was plainly grooming of a 12-year-old, and there was a significant disparity in age. You were aware of her age from the outset, despite what she told you.
“You plainly planned this and encouraged her to lie to her parents. I do not accept that this girl led you on.”