A man who believed he was sending “sexually explicit” messages to a Wigan schoolgirl has escaped a jail sentence.
Blake Pitchford, 27, sent an indecent image and encouraged the 11-year-old girl to perform a sexual act, Bolton Crown Court heard yesterday.
But he was, in fact, communicating with the girl’s father, who had taken over the conversation after becoming concerned.
Pitchford, of Diamond Street, Leigh, sent a friend request to the girl on Facebook.
She sent a message saying she did not know him and told her father, who monitored the account.
He logged into his computer and took up the conversation as his daughter, the court heard.
They gave their ages, and Pitchford told her where he was from and asked to move the messages to Snapchat.
Solicitor Simon Barrett, prosecuting, said: “There was a series of conversations over the following days which quickly became sexual.
‘The defendant asked for a photograph of [the girl] and wrote back with a picture of himself, saying ‘you are beautiful’.”
He sent “sexually explicit” messages, including an indecent image, and encouraged the girl to perform a sexual act, Mr Barrett said.
The girl’s father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, contacted police on July 1, 2017 and Pitchford was arrested at the cricket club where he worked.
Mr Barrett said the girl’s father was “angry and distressed” and it had a “negative impact on him and his family”.
He had to restrict the freedom of his children and had nightmares about what could have happened if his daughter had not told him about Pitchford’s attempt to contact her.
Pitchford pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to attempting to incite a girl under the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity.
The court heard the author of a pre-sentence report believed Pitchford had a mental age below his actual age.
However, a psychological assessment requested at an earlier hearing had not been carried out.
David Polglase, defending, said Pitchford had no previous convictions and cared for his mother.
He argued that a prison sentence could be avoided, saying: “This young man can carry on being punished but also assisted in the community and that would protect the public.”
Sentencing, Judge Richard Gioserano highlighted the role played by the girl’s father.
He said: “He sensibly, although he allowed her to have a Facebook account, he allowed her to have that account on condition that he was allowed to monitor it and it is the experience of this court that there are others who could learn from his approach.
“It is fortunate that he took that approach to her and fortunate, of course, that as soon as you attempted any contact with [the girl] that she went immediately to him.
“He was, therefore, the recipient of your messages and indeed of the photograph...but you didn’t know that.”
He said that while the girl’s father had been affected by this, “thankfully” the girl did not come to any harm due to his intervention.
The judge referred to the pre-sentence report stating it was “likely” Pitchford had an “underlying attraction to children”, which may be because he had an “emotional congruence to younger people”.
Pitchford was not able to understand why what he did was wrong, he said.
Judge Gioserano said: “I have to balance here, and it’s never easy, the abhorrence in the court and the general public with this sort of behaviour, I have to balance that against the need to protect the public in the longer term.
“I am not saying it would be easy to send you to custody to mark the abhorrence of the public of this sort of conduct, but the public would not be surprised if the court took that sort of approach.
“But that would not achieve, in my judgement, any long-term protection for other girls.”
Instead, he handed down a three-year community order, with requirements that Pitchford attends a sexual offenders’ treatment programme and 25 rehabilitation activity days.
He will also be subject to a sexual harm prevention order with “stringent terms” indefinitely.