A 44-year-old man involved in sexual grooming on the internet was exposed by a vigilante group which confronted him on the doorstep of his Winshill home, a court has heard.
Kevin Collins was trapped by members of the so-called Keeping Kids Safe group who filmed him and posted the footage on social media. The vigilante group set up pseudo online profiles of young girls, and Collins believed he was communicating with girls who were 11 or 12 years old.
The conversations were sexual and he sent a naked picture of himself, asking one girl to send him nude photographs.
On Thursday, September 21, Collins appeared at Stafford Crown Court for sentencing via a video link from prison. He has now been given a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.
He will also have to take part in a rehabilitation programme to focus on his sex offending and he must register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.
The judge in the case also said he did not condone the actions of Keeping Kids Safe members and said vigilantism should be discouraged.
Collins, of Empire Road, Winshill, had admitted three offences of intentionally communicating with girls he knew were 16 or under for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification between June 25 and July 15 this year.
Judge Michael Chambers QC said that what Collins had done and had intended to do was very serious and all children deserved to be protected.
However, he said the reality was that no child was harmed or put at risk and that Collins had been ensnared by a vigilante group.
He said although the contact was with three named girls who did not exist, the communication was of an increasing sexual nature and demonstrated grooming.
Judge Chambers said he had to consider what may have happened had there been a real child that Collins had gone to meet but in this case the criminality was initiated by the actions of the vigilante group.
The court heard that Keeping Kids Safe, who pose as underage girls online in order to expose paedophiles, had set up three fictitious profiles of girls in June and July this year.
Darron Whitehead, prosecuting, said Collins had exchanges over a three-week period with a girl the defendant thought was aged 12 and named 'Kirsty' and over a two weeks with a girl he thought was 11 and named 'Lexi' and for about a week with a girl named 'Tia'.
A decoy mobile phone number was posted and Collins had initiated contact with 'Tia' on July 10 and wanted confirmation of her age.
In chats on WhatsApp the defendant gave his age and asked 'Tia' about boyfriends and if she preferred older men.
Mr Whitehead said Collins asked if she would have sex with an older man and told her she was cute, but he was told that he was too old.
He also sent a picture of his private parts, made a sexual suggestion and encouraged her to send him nude pictures.
Mr Whitehead said Collins said he wanted to meet her and that he could collect her from the station in his car.
"On July 15 he had arranged a meeting but he failed to turn up. However, the Keeping Kids Safe members knew where he lived and the make and model of his car and went to his address to locate him.
"When he was confronted he made some admissions and the police were called and he was arrested," he said.
Collins told police he was lonely and was not attracted to children and had not intended to attend any meeting.
The court heard Collins had had similar conversations with both 'Kirsty' and 'Lexi' in the previous weeks.
In 2007 Collins was convicted of 17 charges of downloading child pornography for which he had been given a three-year community order.
Stephen Hennessy, for Collins, said his client was "vulnerable, lonely, isolated and suicidal" man who lived with, and cared for, his sick 73-year-old mother.
He said no-one had been harmed and although there was an opportunity to meet the ficticious Tia it did not take place.
"It was little more than a fantasy and there would not have been any personal contact, " he said.
Mr Hennessy said after the details of the confrontation on his doorstep was posted on social media Collins was remanded in custody for his own protection.
Several members of Keeping Kids Safe were in the public gallery and at the end of the hearing Judge Chambers said the actions of the vigilante group could not be condoned and should be discouraged.
"Investigation of serious crime should be left to the police and vigilante groups were not the answer and it is the view of the courts that it is not in the public interest and the motivation is questionable," he said.