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Paedophile hunters catch veteran, 78, who tried to groom boy, 14

A former British Army corporal was snared by paedophile hunters after he tried to groom a 14-year-old boy with a string of ‘sexualised’ text messages.

James Clark thought he’d been messaging a boy named Carl but was caught by a vigilante group who turned up at his home in Derby to challenge him.

The 78-year-old veteran, who was jailed for more than two years for grooming, had been committing sex offences since 1973 and had already served two prison sentences since leaving the forces.

On May 6, the paedophile hunters knocked on his door in High Street, Alfreton, having set up ‘Carl’s’ decoy profile account.

Lucky Thandi, prosecuting, said: ‘The defendant had been sending sexualised messages to Carl and gave him his address saying they should meet.

‘He went as far as telling Carl that he should not tell anyone what they were doing.

‘The group attended at the address and attempted to ask him about the messages before calling the police.’

Miss Thandi said after being arrested and answering ‘no comment’ to the questions he was asked by detectives, Clark was released under investigation.

But on three occasions between then and June of this year he was caught with either mobile phones or tablets that he had failed to declare to the police, breaking the terms of his order.

On one of them, when he was living in Railway Terrace, in Derby, a support worker caught him frantically trying to hide a box under an armchair which contained a phone.

Clark, who has 18 convictions for 44 offences dating back to 1973, pleaded guilty to attempting to seek the company of a person under the age of 18 and three other breaches of his sexual harm prevention order. 

Eight of those 18 convictions are for sexual offences.

The pensioner, of Uttoxeter Road, Mickleover, was handed an old sexual offences prevention order when he was jailed for three years for possession of indecent images in 2008.

He was then jailed again for having 2,500 more indent images in 2013 and was handed an updated sexual harm prevention order.

Clark committed this latest offence out of ‘a background of deep unhappiness and deep loneliness’, Derby Crown Court was told, having left the army after discovering his wife was having an affair.  

Andrew Vout, mitigating, said the defendant’s family life ‘disintegrated’ after that.

Jailing him for 32 months, Recorder Martin Butterworth said: ‘The most serous offence is seeking to be in the company of a 14-year-old boy who you were grooming.

‘You tried to arrange a meeting with what you thought was a naive 14-year-old with the intention of him having sexual contact with you.

‘The fact is that you are now an old man who, when you are at liberty, find yourself isolated.

‘Your family has disowned you and over the years you have found yourself friendless.

‘But you are a 78-year-old man who has a bad record for sex offending and breaching orders.’  

Speaking after sentencing, an NSPCC spokesperson said: ‘Clark’s disgusting attempts to groom what he thought was a young boy show how easy it can be for a sexual predator to manipulate children online.

‘This case should be a reminder of how vital it is for parents and carers to speak to their children about their online lives, and help them understand the risks they face and where they can turn if they are worried about something.

‘Children need more protection from dangerous individuals such as Clark. 

‘This is why we are pushing the Government hard to publish the Online Harms Bill in the Autumn which will force tech companies to design in safety measures for all the young people who use their platforms.’

Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111. Adults with concerns for a child’s wellbeing can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 8005000 or email [email protected]

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