Jamie Banwell thought he was in touch with five girls on Facebook Messenger but he was actually having conversations with adult decoys from groups including Guardian Angels and TFN UK.
Cardiff Crown Court heard he sent a message to someone he believed to be a 13-year-old girl saying: “So you’ve never seen a c*** before? Lol.”
Nigel Fryer, prosecuting, said the first decoy was posing as a 13-year-old girl and made her age “quite clear”. The court heard Banwell sent a message saying: “I’m watching porn love. Lol.”
A second decoy, this time from Catching Online Predators, also created a profile as a 13-year-old girl and the defendant asked for a photograph of her.
He replied: “Your tits are popping out of your top love.” In another message he said: “Wow, you’re really sexy.”
A third decoy, from TFN UK, was also pretending to be a 13-year-old girl. The defendant asked her about school, TV, and boyfriends.
The court heard he asked: “So you’ve never seen a c*** before? Lol.” He sent her a picture of his genitals and asked: “How big are your tits love?”
Prosecutors said the fourth decoy, from Angels For Innocence, accepted a friend request from Banwell in April 2018 and told him she was 12.
The defendant offered to send her a picture of his genitals and told her: “Don’t let your mum see it.” Mr Fryer said Banwell continued to “pester” her for a picture of her breasts. Banwell was still messaging that decoy on the morning he was arrested.
A fifth decoy, from Guardian Angels, was acting as a 13-year-old girl and the defendant asked: “Have you ever seen a d*** before?”
Police carried out a search warrant at his home in Llanharan on November 1, 2018, searching the property while he was at work.
Officers arrested the defendant at 9.40am and seized his phone and analysed the conversations.
Typically members of so-called paedophile hunter groups pose as children on dating websites, chatrooms, and social media in order to interact with – and then expose – online groomers and would-be abusers.
The work of the groups is controversial – some accuse them of being unregulated vigilantes whose work could put prosecutions at risk while others praise them for helping to keep children safe.
Usually the members of the group will arrange a meeting between the “child” and their target and then confront them. This is what happened at Swansea train station when Mark Huxter thought he was meeting two 12-year-old sisters for sex and at the McDonald’s restaurant in Talbot Green when Mark Taylor thought he was meeting a 13-year-old girl.
Typically the members of the group will then detain their target until police arrive.
The group then give the officers downloads of the online conversations and messages, videos, and any photographs they have – in the case of David Routliff from Port Talbot he sent a series of sexually explicit messages to what he thought was a 13-year-old girl on the messaging service WhatsApp.
While courts are seeing an increasing number of cases where evidence has come from hunter groups many fear that publicly “outing” suspected paedophiles before prosecutions could expose suspects and their families to retaliation and encourage further amateur witch-hunts.
Police have warned that the self-style paedophile hunters are “taking risks they don’t understand”.
There are currently estimated to be more than 70 hunter groups operating across Britain.
During his police interview Banwell accepted using Facebook to chat to “young girls” but denied sending photographs of his genitals or asking for pictures of a girl’s breasts.
He claimed he was drunk at the time of the conversations and stated his work friends had access to his phone and were “joking around”.
Asked why he was befriending girls, the defendant said he was “just being friendly”.
The court heard he had three previous convictions, including sending an offensive message.
Mr Fryer said that offence involved a real 14-year-old girl who the defendant contacted on social media and sent her a private message calling her “sexy”.
The court heard Banwell asked: “Do you want to see my c***?” The girl’s mother found the message and no picture was sent.
Banwell, 36, from Park View in Llanharan, admitted five counts of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child and two counts of failing to surrender.
Owen Williams, defending, said his client struggles with reading and writing.
He asked for credit for his guilty pleas and asked the judge to consider an alternative to immediate custody. The pre-sentence report found he would be suitable for the Horizon programme.
Judge Richard Twomlow noted the five decoys were not connected but were from five different groups.
Banwell was given a three-year community order and must carry out 150 hours of unpaid work. He was ordered to complete the Horizon sex offender programme and 12 days of rehabilitation.
The defendant will have to register as a sex offender for five years and the judge made an indefinite sexual harm prevention order.