June 2020

Co Down paedophile who used fake online profile to lure teen girls jailed after being caught in police sting

A Co Down man who used a fake online profile to contact teenage girls was caught in an undercover police operation, a court heard yesterday.

Handing Neil Cunningham a three-year sentence, Judge Patrick Lynch QC said: “The protection of young children from predatory activity over the internet must be a high priority for the police and it must be the case that the courts will support them in combating this type of activity.”

The 32-year-old, from Glebe Manor in Hillsborough, was told his sentence will be divided between 18 months in custody and 18 on licence.

Craigavon Crown Court, sitting remotely in Belfast, heard Cunningham took an image of an American YouTuber and used it to set up a fake profile. Using this, he then came into contact online with a girl he believed was 13 and told her he would give her £100 if she performed a sex act on a webcam.

This offending occurred in September 2018 and was the result of a police operation where an officer was posing as the girl.

When police went to Cunningham’s home following his online activity they seized several devices including a laptop, where they uncovered other conversations he had with girls under 16, along with indecent images of children.

At the time of this offending Cunningham was the subject of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (Sopo), which was imposed in 2014 for prior offences involving indecent images of children.

When the devices seized were examined it emerged Cunningham had installed software that hid his internet history – something he was banned from doing under the terms of the Sopo.

Cunningham was arrested and pleaded guilty to eight offences including attempting to arrange or facilitate a sexual offence with a child, breaching a Sopo and making indecent images of children.

Crown barrister Ian Tannahill told Judge Lynch: “The key is the totality over the three different types of offences which shows carrying out an ongoing planned and developing pattern of offending, even after having a Sopo put in place.”

He also branded Cunningham’s criminal behaviour as “unusual and sophisticated”.

Defence barrister Conor Coulter described his client as “a man that has displayed genuine remorse” and one who is willing to address his offending behaviour.

As he sentenced Cunningham, Judge Lynch said he noted a medical report compiled on the defendant where he admitted what he was doing was wrong, but that he enjoyed the process of manipulation.