September 2009

Mother’s campaign against sex offender

A DISTRAUGHT mum has sent posters warning of a sex offender to homes in St Austell after finding out her schoolgirl daughter was bombarded with explicit messages.

The girl, who can’t be named for legal reasons, was just 13 when Ben Underwood, 22, started contacting her on the internet.

It ended months later when her mum found the sick messages – as well as full frontal naked photos of Underwood – and called police.

Last week Underwood accepted a caution for inciting a child under the age of 16 to engage in a sexual act and has been placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for two years.

Speaking to the St Austell Guardian, Underwood said: “It’s fair enough. I know that I’ve been cautioned and it’s one of those things. It was a laugh between mates – they were telling me to do stuff.”

But the girl’s mum said: “Everything we’ve been through as a family is almost for nothing. He can carry on his life as normal while ours is shattered.

“Nobody would have ever known what he’s done, not even his family – that’s why I made the posters. I sent them to all the houses in Carclaze Road, where he lives with his parents, and also to his workplace.

“He was bombarding her, harrassing her, grooming her. I hate him.”

Underwood began contacting the girl, who lives with her family in St Austell, on social networking site Bebo in April.

The messages began fairly innocently but quickly progressed to vile content, including photos.

“At the beginning she was flattered an older boy found her attractive,” said her mum. “But when they got more explicit she got scared and was telling him to stop.

“He was asking if her parents were home and if he could come over, if she could stay at his house, to send photos of herself naked, if she’d ever slept with anyone – and that’s the better stuff.

“He knew us, so he knew exactly how old she was, and he warned her not to tell her family.

“There were hundreds of messages on her phone and laptop, which the police seized. “My daughter’s totally naive and I’m devastated she didn’t talk to me. She told me she didn’t know how and it breaks my heart to think she kept this to herself.

“She’s been very, very quiet since it happened. She’s changed – she’s not the girl she was. I feel so sick when I think about what he’s done.”

A caution is a formal warning given to an adult who has admitted an offence.

Although it is not technically classed as a conviction it can be taken into consideration by the courts if the person is convicted of a further offence and it is recorded on a person’s criminal record.

Police can only issue a caution if there’s evidence an offender is guilty, the offender admits the crime and the offender agrees to the caution.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Devon and Cornwall Police took advice from the CPS before offering Ben Underwood a caution.”