Sheffield man sent sexually explicit picture to 13-year-old 'girl' because he was at 'low ebb,' court told
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Despite admitting to a charge of attempting to engage in sexual communication with an individual he believed to be a child, defendant Paul Johnson claims he does not have a sexual interest in children, Sheffield Crown Court has been told.
Judge David Dixon told Johnson: “You fall to be sentenced for trying to talk to a child about sexual matters, where you decided it would be appropriate to send a picture of a very erect penis to what you thought was a child.”
Referring to the account Johnson gave to the author of his pre-sentence report, Judge Dixon continued: “It seems to me there was a degree of minimisation and a degree - or unwillingness - to accept you were doing this for a reason. Any suggestion of it being during lockdown when you were at a low ebb or bored is simply an excuse…you’ve sent a sexual image to what you suspected was a child, you’ve facilitated or tried to get images back.”
The hearing held on September 4, 2023 heard how Johnson, of Dovedale Road, Millhouses, Sheffield was snared as part of a ‘covert’ police operation, targeting individuals responsible for child sexual exploitation.
The undercover police officer communicated with 46-year-old Johnson through free chat website, Chatiw, over two days in July 2021 and claimed to be a 13-year-old girl called ‘Sienna,’ prosecutor Bev Wright said.
“He purported to be 24,” Ms Wright added.
After the ‘girl’ told Johnson she was 13, Johnson responded by asking her if she liked ‘big c**ks,’ and she responded by saying she had never seen one before.
“After that he sent her a picture of an erect penis of a black man,” Ms Wright said, adding that he followed this up by starting conversations about her ‘bra size, if she had a boyfriend and that she was sexy’.
Johnson was subsequently arrested, and provided his mobile phone to officers, when asked, but refused to give them the PIN (personal identification number) to access the phone.
Police were still able to access Johnson's phone, however, and no indecent images of children were found when the device was examined by officers, the court heard.
Ms Wright said Johnson accepted using the Chatiw platforms, during the course of two police interviews; but said he ‘did not recall the conversation,’ and ‘did not have a sexual interest in children’.
Johnson pleaded guilty to a charge of adult attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child at an earlier hearing.
Defending, Timothy Gaubert, said Johnson ‘lost his job directly after the last hearing’ after his employer became aware of the proceedings against him; and said the offending was over a ‘minimal period’ which took place more than two years ago.
Mr Gaubert was keen to stress, however, that Johnson’s job was ‘nothing to do with children at all’.
“He was at a very low ebb at that time, that’s no excuse at all,” Mr Gaubert told the court, adding that the court could be satisfied that Johnson is a person ‘for whom there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation’ and urged Judge Dixon to suspend any any custodial sentence passed.
Judge Dixon sentenced Johnson to eight months’ custody, suspended for two years, and told him: “Some would say you deserve to go straight to prison, but two years have passed, you have lost your job, you, to some extent, understand what’s going on…there’s work that can be done with your rehabilitation.”
Judge Dixon told Johnson he would now have to register as a sex offender - with the period to be decided at a later date; and ordered him to complete 55 rehabilitation activity requirement days, along with 100 hours of unpaid work.
Ms Wright applied for Judge Dixon to grant a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO), but he deemed the order in the terms sought by the prosecution to be too onerous.
Instead, he told Johnson that he would make a number of terms to his suspended sentence order, which mirror that of the SHPO, including a prohibition preventing him from having any unsupervised contact with any child under the age of 18 and a requirement for him to provide any internet enabled device he owns to a police officer or probation officer upon request.