September 2021

Paedophile hunters snare man trying to message girls aged 12

A man spent months sending disgusting sexual messages to what turned out to be five decoy social media accounts being run by so-called paedophile hunters, a court has heard.

Michael Vernon thought he was communicating with girls aged 12, 13, and 14 when he sent them obscene pictures and videos of himself to the accounts and encouraged them to perform sex acts.

When Dyfed-Powys Police were alerted to what was going on and seized the 55-year-old’s phone an investigation found he had also been engaged in similar conversations with a real schoolgirl from Yorkshire.

Swansea Crown Court heard that in early April 2018 Vernon contacted five different profiles on various social media platforms which purported to be of girls aged from 12 to 14.

Helen Randall, prosecuting, said in reality the profiles were “decoys” which were being operated by adults with the intention of identifying people who wanted to engage on sexual communications with children.

For three months Vernon sent explicit messages to the decoys – asking them about their sexual experience, giving them compliments, telling them that they aroused him, and encouraging them to perform sex acts on themselves.

He also sent photographs of his penis to a number of the decoys, sent videos of himself masturbating, and asked them to send him pictures.

In June the people behind the decoy profiles went to the police and the defendant was arrested and his phone was seized. Miss Randall said when the phone was examined officers found Vernon had also been communicating with another account and inquiries found this belonged to a real 14-year-old girl living in Yorkshire.

The child was traced and spoken to and it emerged Vernon had been engaging in sexual communications with her too including performing sex acts in front of her over a Skype video call.

In his subsequent interviews Vernon claimed he had known the accounts he was interacting were not real children and were being run by adults and said he had been doing it to “wind them up”.

Vernon, of Lynden, Lower Cwmtwrch, admitted five counts of attempted sexual communication with a child, attempting to cause a child to watch a sexual act, attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity, engaging in sexual communication with a child, and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child.

Judge Catherine Richards told the defendant he had sought out young girls on a number of different online platforms and engaged in sexually explicit conversations for his own sexual gratification. She said: “Children and their parents should feel safe and secure online without fear of predators seeking them out for their sexual gratification.”

The judge said she had read a number of impressive references written on the defendant’s behalf and it was clear his behaviour was “wholly incomprehensible” to those who knew him well but she said the offending was too serious to be dealt with by any sentence other than immediate custody.

With discounts for his guilty pleas the judge sentenced Vernon to a total of 36 months in prison. He will serve up to half that period in custody before being released on licence to serve the remainder in the community. Vernon was made the subject of an indefinite sexual harm prevention order and will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.