June 2021

Pervert will go to jail for child grooming offences

A father-of-three will serve jail time after he was caught by ‘paedophile hunters’.

Matthew Leonard, 31, of Glendale House, Bolton, pleaded guilty to attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.

The Nightingale Court at the University of Bolton Stadium heard how in December 2019, the former tyre-fitter reached out to who he believed to be a young teenage girl on social media.

Neil Fryman, prosecuting, told the court: “A member of Hunting for Justice, a self-proclaimed ‘paedophile hunters’ group, set up a fake Facebook profile portrayed as a fictitious 14-year-old girl called, Ella Jones.”

A total of 385 messages were exchanged over Facebook between December 23-29, 2019.

Leonard also invited the supposed minor to his friends house, where he said he would be alone, and discussed different types of graphic sex acts during their conversations.

He presented himself as aged 25, a few years younger than he was at the time, and then went on to ask her if she was setting him up, to which she replied ‘no’, the court heard.

The messages resulted in a meeting outside Farnworth library on December 29, 2019 – where a group of the protagonists from Hunting for Justice chased the defendant towards the Asda in the town.

He had also offered to pay for a hotel room for the pair previously, despite the messages repeatedly saying that she was 14.

In mitigation, defence lawyer Nicholas Ross said: “There’s no clear evidence that this communication and the eventual meeting would have ended in direct sexual engagement.

“This was a decoy case. Given the fact that these were not the complete offence, I would urge that there is a downward reduction in the sentencing. Ultimately, these were attempts.

“This is a man who has had addiction problems for more than half his life.”

Leonard has a criminal history, having been brought in front of the court on 30 occasions for several offences since 2004 – but this is the first one of a sexual nature.