Web pervert admits grooming girl

A 41-year-old man became “obsessed” with a Norwich schoolgirl after grooming her for months in an internet chat room, a court heard yesterday.James Palmer posed as a “fit, virile and handsome” 17-year-old boy on the internet and tricked the 13-year-old into meeting him through emails and text messages.

A 41-year-old man became “obsessed” with a Norwich schoolgirl after grooming her for months in an internet chat room, a court heard yesterday.

James Palmer posed as a “fit, virile and handsome” 17-year-old boy on the internet and tricked the 13-year-old into meeting him through emails and text messages.

When they finally met, he pretended he was an older friend of the boy, became “suicidal” when she spurned him after he revealed his identity and followed her to Stansted airport when she was on a family holiday.

Yesterday, as the car fleet manager began a 51-week jail sentence suspended for two years, detectives warned parents to be vigilant about giving their children internet access.

The judge imposed a suspended sentence to ensure that Palmer could take part in a treatment project - warning that he could not impose a long enough jail term for the 51-year-old to complete a sex offender programme while behind bars.

Norwich Crown Court heard how Palmer turned to internet chat rooms in early 2005 after an acrimonious divorce.

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He used his own name and address but took on an “alter ego” of a model-like teenage boy and posted photos on the internet of his virtual self pictured in various locations.

Andrew Shaw, prosecuting, said the pair met on a website called Face Party after he initially struck up a web and phone-based relationship with her then 15-year-old, older sister, who always made an excuse not to meet him.

They spoke on a daily basis, both online and via mobile phones and there was “nothing sexual” about these chats.

The 13-year-old agreed to meet him after school after he contacted her on her mobile in September 2005 - with Palmer himself turning up and pretending to be an older friend of the 17-year-old.

“She spent about an hour with him, believing him to be a friend, and he took her to a café and to the mall and showed her a text apparently from James saying he had been delayed because his father was taken to hospital.

“The use of the text message and the particular excuse is indicative of the lengths he would go to create sympathy in the mind of a young teenage girl to keep her enthralled by him.”

A month later, the girl agreed to meet the 17-year-old just 200 metres from her home and was surprised to discover Palmer again, who “almost came clean”, revealed who he was and claimed he was 29.

“As she went to leave he tried to kiss her on the lips and got within about six inches of her face.

“In October, her family were due to go on holiday and Palmer went to Stansted and watched her in the departure lounge.”

The court heard he left a note for her at check-in - claiming his life was pointless and empty without her - and watched her read it and throw it in a bin.

On her return, he threatened suicide if she did not take him back as her boyfriend and kept her school timetable on his computer.

The court heard he had simultaneous, sexually explicit conversations with other young girls after they revealed their age.

As previously reported in the EDP, one of his conversations to another Norfolk high school pupil was intercepted by software which monitors all email activity.

Palmer, of Wheathamstead Road, Harpenden, admitted meeting a child following grooming for sexual activity, contrary to the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Lisa Matthews, defending, said: “It is quite clear he began to believe he was in love with her and that they had some sort of future together, and because of his mental state he began to feel that this was realistic.”

The court heard he had since started to turn his life around, worked with his brother-in-law as a car fleet manager and now had an “entirely appropriate” relationship with a woman in her mid-40s.

Sentencing Palmer to 51 weeks in prison, suspended for two years - the maximum suspended sentence available - Judge Simon Barham said: “I could not sentence you to prison for long enough for you to receive treatment in prison…. you will receive treatment if I pass a non-custodial sentence.”

The sentence has a supervision requirement and requirement to complete the Thames Valley sex offenders' treatment programme, and a sexual offences prevention order for 10 years to “protect the public and individuals from serious sexual harm from you”.

This means he is not permitted to be alone with or reside with anyone under 16, stay overnight in a house where a person is under that age and not to contact a child unless with an adult. He is also unable to have internet access at home or on his mobile phone.

He was also placed on the sex offenders register for 10 years.

Speaking after the case, the girl's stepfather said: “He was so clever - he fooled us parents as well.

“The trouble is, how can you control what happens in a chat room? They are just not safe.”

Det Con Lawrie Appleton added: “I really think there has to be a webcam for these websites- if you haven't got a webcam you can't go on there, it should be as simple as that and then everybody can see who you are.”

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