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Paedophile caught by vigilante group spared jail due to probation service 'cuts'

PUBLISHED: 13:44 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:44 19 September 2019

Norwich Crown Court. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Norwich Crown Court. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk

A paedophile caught by a vigilante group masquerading online as a 14-year-old girl has been spared jail due to "cuts" to the probation service.

Richard Perren, 47, was given a sexual harm prevention order and suspended sentence of 10 months in October 2017 for making and distributing indecent images of children.

At the time Norwich Crown Court ordered he complete the Horizon programme for sexual offenders.

But because of a "lack of resources" he was unable to begin until January of this year - 14 months later.

In the meantime, Perren had been having sexually explicit conversations online with a vigilante posing as a young girl.

He admitted attempting to incite a child into sexual activity and breaching a sexual harm prevention order.

On July 22 last year police were contacted by the group Keeping Children Safe to report Perren had offered to meet the fictional 14-year-old called 'Cassie'.

They had begun chatting in June on an app called Scout before moving onto Whatsapp, prosecutor Martin Ivory told the court.

The conversations became sexual "very quickly", he said, until Perren asked to meet 'Cassie' on July 22.

But Jonathan Morgans, mitigating for Perren, said if not for cuts to the probation service, Perren would not have committed the offences.

"Part of the sentence imposed in October 2017 was the Horizon programme," he said. "That was absolutely right for this defendant, but it did not commence until January of this year.

"It is because of the cuts to that service. Every time this defendant went in he was begging them for it to start.

"He is a very different person now, a year later, from the man who committed these offences. That is down to the assistance from the probation service.

"If that course had started in January of last year he would not find himself here committing these offences.

Mr Morgans added the work of vigilante groups could "disrupt and disrail" the criminal justice system.

"These groups are becoming more popular - buoyed up by a sense of self-righteousness. Because of course, everyone hates a paedophile," he said.

"But this is a prime example of why these actions are solely taken by these groups and not the police, who we ask to be in charge of such things.

"There is a real danger they disrupt and disrail the primary aim of the criminal justice system, which is rehabilitation and prevention.

"Here in place, but delayed, was the right assistance for this defendant, but because of his involvement with this group, completely disrailed.

"At the very time this vigilante group got involved this defendant was looking for help.

"He is rightly ashamed of what he has done, but it was an attempt of the impossible."

Judge Maureen Bacon gave Perren a sentence of 22 months in prison, suspended for 22 months.

"The fact is, there was no girl," she told him.

"This is a case where certainly your mind was guilty but that which you sought out was impossible.

"Monitoring by those described as vigilantes brought your guilty mind to the attention of the police.

"It may be a reflection of the funding the probation service have to contend with and their lack of resources, but by the time of the commission of these offences you had not been placed in the programme I intended."

Perren, of Yarmouth Road in Norwich, was also ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work and up to 40 days of rehabilitation.

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