January 2018

Man snared by paedophile hunter group and TV crew avoids jail

A man snared by a paedophile hunter group and TV crew at a Newport hotel, has avoided immediate imprisonment.

Neil Cooper, 44, of Thatcham had previously used an online chat room and communicated with a member of PH Balance, claiming to be a 14-year-old girl.

He also spoke to a 41-year-old woman online, also a member of the group, and arranged to meet at Coldra’s Premier Inn, only to be confronted by PH Balance and an ITV news crew.

Cooper had previously pleaded guilty to one count of inciting a girl aged between 13 and 15 to engage in sexual activity, and appeared at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday, January 12.

Prosecuting, Heath Edwards told the court that Cooper, under the username ‘Mandrake 8473’, struck up a conversation with ‘Olivia Jane 14’ on the platform ‘Chat Hour’.

The barrister confirmed that the profile was a “decoy” – a tactic used by PH Balance, a paedophile hunter group organised by Nicholas Young, involving an adult.

“He suggested moving the conversation from a public arena to a private one – a messenger app called Kick Messenger similar to WhatsApp,” said Mr Edwards.

“What happened thereafter was the conversation was steered toward a sexual nature by the defendant.”

Mr Edwards added that Cooper was aware he was communicating with a person claiming to be a 14-year-old girl, confirming he was a 44-year-old man.

The court heard excerpts of messages between Cooper and the decoy, including his suggestion of: “Just drive out into the country. Just sit and kiss”.

The court also heard a message of Cooper providing ‘the decoy 14; with advice of how to perform a sexual act with the use of the handle of a hairbrush, before their conversations “petered out”.

Cooper was arrested at the Newport hotel on Monday, November 13, when he was confronted by members of PH Balance and the ITV crew, by Gwent Police officers.

“I knew this was a sting,” said Mr Edwards, confirming what Cooper said at the hotel.

Concluding, recorder Simon Mills told that court within five hours of striking up a conversation with ‘The decoy 14’, Cooper moved the conversation toward sexual matters.

“You are a 44-year-old man looking to talk to a 14-year-old girl,” he said, ”There was a significant age disparity.”

Mr Mills added that Cooper had shown the “motivation to change” after having “heard the clang of the prison gates”.

Mr Mills handed down a term of eight months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered Cooper to carry out a 30-day rehabilitation requirement as part of a sexual harm prevention order.

Cooper was ordered to pay costs of £1,200, repayable over a period of six months, as well as a statutory surcharge, and will be placed on the sexual offenders register for a period of 10 years.