January 2021

Former naval officer jailed for trying to meet girl for sex

A decorated naval officer and pillar of the local community from Exeter has been jailed for attempting to meet a 14-year-old girl for sexual activity.

Christopher Harding, 36, served his country by intercepting boats operated by human smugglers. But after leaving the service he indulged his paedophile desire for children and groomed what he thought was a teenage girl.

He also used the internet to view images of children being abused by adults.

Exeter Crown Court was told his reputation as a church-going valued members of society was now in tatters.

He pleaded guilty to attempting to communicate with a 14-year-old girl for penetrative sexual activity. He could not commit the offence because the child was actually an undercover police officer.

Harding, of Clinton Road in Exeter, was jailed for two years and eight months.

Judge Timothy Rose said: “Your plan was to arrange to meet what you believed to be a 14-year-old girl and you arranged it over a sustained period of time of about a month. The event you tried to arrange was doggedly pursued by you with an increasing level of planning and grooming behaviour.

“The wording you used in a number of messages was really quite careful, trying to make sure there was no deception, making sure this was a real situation.”

Harding used increasingly sexual language in the messages. By the time he arranged a meeting he was convinced the situation was real. He even told the ‘girl’ not to wear perfume so his wife would not smell it when he returned.

Harding pleaded guilty to five offences in total. The indecent images included some in the most serious category of child sexual abuse, involving children as young as two.