September 2016

Dance school director jailed after sending indecent images of himself to child


A DIRECTOR of a Scunthorpe performing arts school has been jailed after admitting causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Mark Hope, 35, of Barlings Avenue, Scunthorpe, swapped messages with the child through social media, sending the child indecent images of himself and asking them to do the same.

Prosecuting at Grimsby Crown Court, Claire Holmes said the offences happened on a number of occasions in January and the connection between Hope and the youngster was the Kimberley Performing Arts Centre, on Enderby Road.

Miss Holmes said Hope was “effectively a volunteer” at the centre and at the time of the offending, was an unpaid director of the company.

She said contact was initially made by the child through the Facebook Messenger service to Hope and took the form of a “friendly conversation where they contacted the defendant asking how he was”.

She said the conversations continued over a period of time and the child felt Hope was someone they could confide in.

She said there came a point where the conversations between the two “took a turn from being neutral conversation to matters of a sexual nature” and within around a week of starting the correspondence, they began exchanging picture messages using the Snapchat application.

She said the child asked Hope to send them an indecent image of himself and “instead of refusing, he said ‘you first'”.

Pictures were then exchanged between the two, which also happened on other occasions.

Miss Holmes said the child said they should stop talking, with one of the reasons being they did not want Hope’s family to find out what had been happening.

Miss Holmes said the offending was discovered through the positive actions of other staff at the performing arts centre.

She said: “It should perhaps be stressed that these matters came to light through the vigilance of other staff members at that performing arts centre.

“There was a work telephone and the receptionist noticed there had been messages sent late at night between the defendant and the complainant.”

The receptionist went on to alert the centre’s principal, who informed the child’s parents.

Police were informed and Hope made full admissions.

He went on to plead guilty to charges of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and causing a child to look at an image of himself engaging in sexual activity, at the earliest opportunity.

The images, which were sent via Snapchat, were no longer accessible.

Mitigating, Michele Stuart-Lofthouse referred to references put forward for Hope and a pre-sentence report.

She said: “His best mitigation is his admissions at a very early stage and no minimisation of the offending at any stage throughout the process.”

Miss Stuart-Lofthouse said Hope had shown genuine remorse for his actions and had a full appreciation of the “true devastation” it had caused for the complainant’s family and his own family.

She said the author of the pre-sentence report assessed his risk of reoffending as low and believed his distress and remorse was genuine.

Sentencing judge Recorder Peter Makepeace stressed that the child was “entirely and utterly innocent” and said they were vulnerable and had been seeking understanding and reassurance because of concerns they had.

Recorder Makepeace described Hope’s actions as an “appalling abuse of trust” and dismissed claims it was an isolated incident because “it was repeated over and over again”.

But he gave Hope credit for his early admissions and guilty pleas.

He said: “It is the one and only thing you could have done to begin to make right what happened in this case.

“I also bear in mind these offences are utterly out of character.”

Hope was jailed for 15 months and given a five-year sexual harm prevention order.

He will also be on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.