June 2022

Cheshire man jailed after sex chats with four ‘teenage girls’ who were all decoys

A Cheshire man who engaged in online sex chats with what he thought were four underage girls was actually communicating with decoys set up by paedophile hunters.

Andrew Gates, 50, of Alan Street, Northwich, pleaded guilty to a total of seven charges, including five offences of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, one offence of causing what he believed was a 14-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity, and one offence of intentionally inciting what he believed was a 13-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity.

Appearing at Chester Crown Court on Thursday, June 16, Gates was jailed for 30 months.

None of the four victims in the case were, as Gates had believed, really 13 or 14-year-old girls. They were paedophile hunters who posed as decoys on the messaging service Nearby, an app which has since been deactivated following a data breach.

Prosecuting, Claire Jones said all the offences took place between January and February 2021.

The first decoy was ‘Gemma, 13’. Gates engaged in sexual chats with the first decoy and sent that account a photo of himself looking at the camera. ‘Gemma’ responded by sending a photo, to which Gates responded “wow wow wow” and said she “looked really cute”.

Gates later sent a topless photo of himself and asked if they could be boyfriend and girlfriend, asking for naked pictures of her, and calling her his “princess”.

He said he “wanted to keep her warm” and said “age is just a number” in reference to having a relationship between the two, but added to keep said relationship “secret”.

During one conversation, he messaged with detailed instructions on how the 13-year-old girl could perform a sex act as stress relief. He also sent her a photo of his penis.

The second decoy posed as 14-year-old girl ‘Jessica’ on the same social media platform. Gates said she was “scrummy” and “sorry he could not wash her back while she was in the bath”.

Gates asked the girl to send photos, adding they would “stay private”.

The third decoy posed as a 14-year-old girl, ‘Steph’ and Gates asked for a photo of her, also asking if she wanted her back washing in the bath. The conversation later turned to Whatsapp messages.

Decoy number four was also named Gemma, a 14-year-old girl. Gates provided his phone number for the conversation to go to Whatsapp and Gates asked her for a photo. ‘Gemma’ replied her camera was not working, and Gates offered to send her a phone. He said he “would like to keep her warm and cuddle her”.

The group of paedophile hunters, Ms Jones told the court, then organised a sting and contacted police, who arrested Gates at his address. Upon his arrest, Gates said: “I can’t believe it, I have let myself down.”

Judge Simon Berkson, sentencing, said the most aggravating feature about the case was that there were four potential victims.

He added: “You have faced up to your criminal behaviour, and I am sentencing a man of good character.

“However, only an immediate custodial sentence can achieve appropriate punishment.”

As well as the 30-month prison term, Gates was made the subject of a 15-year Sexual harm Prevention Order severely restricting his future internet usage and banning him from communicating with underage children without permission from a parent or guardian.

The mobile phone used for the messaging on the app was made the subject of a deprivation order.