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Online groomer caught out by undercover adult

30 Jun 2020

A man has been jailed after the 14-year-old girl he groomed and suggested driving more than 180 miles to meet turned out to be an adult.

Mark Harper, 34, of Orton Malborne, Peterborough, sent the ‘girl’ pictures of his genitalia, offered to take her shopping and even suggested booking a hotel room with her.

The messages, on chat forums, spanned 17 days and began on 20 September 2018.

In the messages to the ‘girl’, Harper offered to drive from Peterborough to Durham – a journey of at least 180 miles - to meet her.

He also asked her sexually explicit questions, asked her if he could watch her undress or get changed and even supplied his work mobile number.

The messages continued despite the ‘girl’ often reminding Harper she was only 14 and eventually the pair arranged to meet.

On 5 October Harper said he would drive to Durham after the weekend, arranged a shop to meet the ‘girl’ at and said again how much he wanted to watch her get changed.

Before the meeting, the ‘girl’ - who was in reality a man working undercover to expose offences - reported the messages to the police.

Harper was arrested two days later on suspicion of engaging in sexual communication with a child. Electronic devices were seized from him on his arrest.

In police interview Harper admitted sending the messages but claimed he thought he was talking to an adult pretending to be a child – describing it as “like a game.”

He told officers he had no intention of actually travelling to meet the person he was chatting to, but did admit to sending explicit images to the ‘girl’ despite knowing she could have been 14.

Examinations of the devices seized from Harper’s address revealed indecent images; three of category B and six of category C.

Harper was re-arrested in February last year and despite initial denials, eventually admitted responsibility for all of the content and taking two of the category B images himself.

Harper pleaded guilty to taking indecent images of a child, engaging in sexual communication with a child and two counts of making indecent images of a child.

DC Scott Bowden, who investigated, said: “Harper’s behaviour was completely inappropriate and he fully intended to meet who he thought was a teenage girl.

“Using the internet to target young and vulnerable girls will not be tolerated and thankfully Harper was stopped and arrested.

“Alongside this was the discovery of indecent images on the devices seized from Harper’s home. A child is victimised not only when an indecent image is taken, but also every time it is viewed or shared.

“Protecting young people from harm is one of our top priorities and we will continue to work tirelessly to keep our communities safe.”

Harper was sentenced at Peterborough Crown Court on Friday (26 June) where he was handed 15 months in prison. He was placed on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years and was also handed a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) for the same time period.

Sentencing, Judge Matthew Lowe said he was concerned about Harper’s initial denial that he had a sexual interest in children.

He added that the severity of Harper’s actions in the three different forms of offending were so serious that only an immediate prison sentence was appropriate.

Anyone who is concerned someone may have been convicted of a sex offence, and could be posing a risk to someone, can apply for disclosure information through Clare's Law and Sarah’s Law.

For information and advice regarding sexual offences and child abuse visit

www.cambs.police.uk/childprotection.

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