June 2011

Paedophile hunted more victims while on sex course

A CONVICTED paedophile who was still grooming teenage girls while attending a sex offenders’ course has been jailed for five years.

Robert Birtwhistle searched for young girls on social networking sites and then struck up a relationship with a 15-year-old girl with whom he had sex.

At the time, the 29-year-old student was on a treatment programme for sex offenders, which he was ordered to take after being convicted of downloading indecent pictures of children.

A judge said Birtwhistle’s attendance on the programme was “a pretence”.

He was convicted in September 2008 of having more than 200 child sex images. He was put on the sex offenders’ register and given a three-year community order. As part of that, he had to attend weekly meetings with a probation officer.

After seven months, he was put on a course in which a probation officer trained by the NSPCC talked to groups of offenders about the causes of their crimes.

But, Derby Crown Court was told, throughout this time Birtwhistle was having a relationship with a 15-year-old girl he met online.

In May 2009, he was arrested and questioned about this relationship, but was released on bail.

He then met up with the girl while on bail and tried to convince her not to give evidence against him.

In August, he contacted a second 15-year-old girl.

In March 2010, police seized Birtwhistle’s computer and more indecent images were found.

He was put into custody but sent a letter from his prison cell to the 15-year-old with whom he had a relationship, said Sarah Knight, prosecuting.

Birtwhistle has now admitted six charges of sexual activity with a child, two of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and one of perverting the course of justice.

He was made the subject of a sexual offences prevention order, which bans him from contacting children on the internet.

He was also put on the sex offenders’ register for life.

Jailing Birtwhistle, Judge John Gosling said he was an intelligent man and knew what he was doing as he groomed the girl “in a measured way”.

The judge said the original court order, given in September 2008, had been to address Birtwhistle’s “perverted interest in children”.

But, he said, Birtwhistle’s compliance with the programme had been a “complete pretence”.

“Even as you attended sessions you were contacting girls,” said Judge Gosling.

He said: “It almost beggars belief, the extent to which you pursued your interest in children, despite the prosecution in relation to that girl.

“Even before you were remanded in custody you were trawling the internet for images of children.”

The girl Birtwhistle wrote to from prison, now aged 17, was in court to see him jailed. She said: “I just hope that the police will always be around to keep an eye on him when he gets out of prison, so he cannot do this to anyone else.

“I feel relieved that everyone was there for me when I finally came to terms with it and realised it was wrong and now I feel I can move on with my life.”

Birtwhistle, of College Street, Long Eaton, was being supervised by Derbyshire Probation Service while he was having his relationship with the teenager.

Birtwhistle first contacted the two girls when they were 13, before he was arrested in March 2008 in Southampton – where he was studying at university – for downloading indecent images of children.

Despite being convicted, he carried on contacting one of the girls, who was by now 15, through texts and Facebook, and they sent each other naked pictures of themselves. At the beginning of 2009, the girl’s father found e-mails between his daughter and Birtwhistle.

Miss Knight said Birtwhistle had sex with the girl in his car in a church car park.

“It was clear that the girl was besotted with him. There were e-mails about her running away with him when she turned 16. The tenor of his e-mails was controlling and manipulative.”

The girl’s grandmother logged on to her Bebo account and found it linked to Birtwhistle’s account, where he had numerous friends who were “young and petite”.

“He was also advertising as a photographer, looking for teenage girls,” said Miss Knight.

The family reported Birtwhistle to the police and he was arrested.

Following the court hearing, investigating officer DC Cath Snipsides said Derbyshire police began looking at the case after police in Northamptonshire passed on information about the girl. She said: “There was a lot of trawling through phone records, computers and social networking sites. We are pleased that he has now admitted it and he is now going to be monitored for the rest of his life.

“He had a massive impact on the girl’s life – her early teenage years have been stolen from her. It’s taken a long time to break that hold he had over her.”

Probation Service defends its handling of case

FOLLOWING Robert Birtwhistle’s jailing, Derbyshire Probation Trust said it had done all it could to monitor him.

Spokesman John Allsop said: “Sex offenders are generally manipulative, devious people – that’s how they commit their crimes.”

He said ongoing supervision was given to Birtwhistle after he was sentenced in September 2009.

This began with weekly meetings with a probation officer, which deal with surrounding issues, such as relationships and accommodation, that influenced his criminal behaviour.

In June 2009, Birtwhistle began a group programme for internet sex offenders. This was run by NSPCC staff, and looked at the beliefs, attitudes and values of defendants and taught ways to avoid situations that could lead to reoffending.

Birtwhistle attended 20 of the 22 sessions and then went back to having his weekly supervision meetings with a probation officer.

He was due to attend another more intensive sex offenders’ programme but was arrested before he could do so.

In court, Dominic Shelley, for Birtwhistle, said that when he was first placed in custody a year ago, he was a danger to the public, but “he isn’t now”.

“I have met him about seven or eight times in custody.

“When we first met I was faced with almost an arrogance – with no recognition of what had gone on and blaming almost everyone around him.”

But he added that, at the start of this year, Birtwhistle had changed his attitude and now took responsibility for his actions.

Mr Shelley said: “It does seem to me that it’s a sad case as well as a serious case.

“It’s clear that he had a relationship, which he then struggled to come to terms with when it came to an end.”

The court heard that Birtwhistle was writing a PhD thesis in prison and hoped to do archaeology work in Armenia when he was released from prison.