A former Army officer caught trying to meet a 14-year-old for sex by a weekly newspaper has been spared jail.
Paul Handley was snared in a sting by Selby Times reporter James Morris, who created fake profiles and posed as an underage girl on an online chat room.
After six weeks of messaging, 56-year-old Handley agreed to meet the ‘girl’ in a Selby park but was instead met by James who photographed the “highly-decorated” former soldier waiting in his car.
Handley sped off but was arrested at his home 12 days later after James passed on details of the online chats with Handley to police, as well as conversations he’d had with other men.
Handley pleaded guilty to attempting to meet a girl under the age of 16 following sexual grooming and attempting to cause the same child to watch an image of sexual activity.
He was given a two-year suspended sentence by Judge Paul Batty QC because there was no actual sex involved.
Prosecutor Christine Egerton told York Crown Court Handley “repeatedly” asked James to meet him and went into great detail about the sexual acts he wanted to carry out.
Rob Stephenson, defending, said Handley had served in the Army and Ministry of Defence for almost 40 years and claimed he “didn’t (initially) go looking” for child sex, arguing the internet forum he used was for adults.
James had initially stated the ‘girl’ was 18 when creating the profile, but later told the men who contacted it that ‘she’ was actually 14.
Many ceased contact at that point but several asked him to add them on Kik – an instant messaging app – where several men, including Handley, began sending sexually explicit messages followed by pictures and videos.
Passing sentence, Judge Batty told Handley: “It’s difficult to conceive of a more squalid and indeed a more criminal act, given your age and the perceived age of your ‘victim’. Until the commission of these offences… you led a blameless life and you had served your country for 28 years, reaching the rank of warrant officer and leaving the forces with exemplary military conduct upon discharge.
“But you yourself… describe the offences as too heinous, involving child-sex grooming. As it was, this was effectively a sting operation by a newspaper reporter from the Selby Times who pretended to be (a girl)… and you, as it were, took the bait.”
Handley has been placed on the sex offenders’ register for ten years and ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work, as well as taking part in a 30-day rehabilitation course.
Times news editor Andrew Hewitt told HTFP: “Even in a quiet market town such as Selby, opportunistic sex offenders will seek to take advantage of children.
“Some of the content posted by Handley was truly shocking. The fact that he persistently contacted our under cover reporter for six weeks highlighted the lengths he was prepared to go to in the hope of having sex with an under-age girl.
“James assisted by his colleagues did a fantastic job in highlighting to parents the dangers that the internet can pose for their children. This investigation proves that the net holds no boundaries to those looking to prey on children. We may be a small paper but we’re not afraid to tackle major issues affecting our readers.”
Last summer four men were arrested in the Channel Islands on suspicion of child sex offences after a similar sting by the Jersey Evening Post.