March 2008

Ex-youth worker jailed over sex-grooming

A FORMER Gwent arts development officer is beginning a 12-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to meeting a child following sexual grooming.

Mark Phelps-Holmes, 47, who worked for Monmouthshire Youth Service, met the girl, who was under 16 through a drama workshop he set up to help youngsters with behavioural difficulties.

Newport Crown Court was told married man Phelps-Holmes, of North Road, Newbridge, corresponded with the girl on the internet, discussing filming her getting undressed for bed, quoting Romeo and Juliet to her, and arranging to meet in a car park.

Phelps-Holmes singled her out for attention, promising her she would have the best costume after she got a part in a drama production.

In February 2007 he picked her up from school, lying about parental consent, and took her shopping in Cardiff, buying her a £195 dress.

They then arranged to meet a month later in a supermarket car park. She was to wear a skirt.

Phelps-Holmes later denied the internet exchanges to police, admitting it only when confronted with transcripts.

He told police he suspected she had been abused and was trying to get her to open up.

The girl, now 15, refused to co-operate with the investigation. She had told friends she intended to have an affair with Phelps-Holmes, the court heard.

Defending, Nathan Hughes said an “extraordinarily bizarre error of judgement” had cost Phelps-Holmes his job after many years working “tirelessly” with young people.

“It is wholly out of character,” said Mr Hughes, who stressed the girl bore him no ill-will and there had been no sexual activity.

Judge John Curran said Phelps-Holmes groomed a vulnerable girl in a premeditated manner with “inappropriate, flirtatious and seductive” behaviour, and it was plain he intended to have sex with her.

“This offence is too serious to be dealt with by anything short of an immediate prison sentence,” he said.

Phelps-Holmes was also banned from working with children, being alone with children under 16, and placed on the sex offenders register.