'deeply regretful' | 

Dublin man caught in sting op by online vigilante group posing as 13-year-old is jailed

Robert Ashmore© Collins Dublin

Sonya McLeanSunday World

A man who was caught through a sting operation by an online vigilante group who posed as a 13-year-old in WhatsApp conversations has been jailed for 16 months.

Robert Ashmore (54) later told gardaí that he believed he was communicating with scammers but Garda Nicola Duffy told Judge Martin Nolan that she didn’t accept this.

She explained that Child Protection Awareness and Justice Reborn were two groups that had communicated with Ashmore, via WhatsApp, while posing as a young teenager.

The groups provided gardaí with copies of over 2,000 WhatsApp exchanges between Ashmore and themselves, many of which were explicit in nature and she believed that Ashmore “felt he was engaging in conversations with a 13-year-old”.

The groups never provided witness statements to gardaí.

Ashmore, of The Gouldings, Ballymun, pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to attempting to communicate with another person in order to facilitate the sexual exploitation of a child on dates between March 3, 2018 and April 23, 2018. He has no previous convictions.

He also admitted being in possession of 71 images of child abuse material, which were cartoon images that depicted children between the ages of eight and 10 years old engaged in sexual acts or with their genitals exposed.

Gda Duffy told Fiona McGowan BL, prosecuting, that the offences came to light after representatives from the two groups came to his place of work in the IT department of Beaumont Hospital. Ashmore had gone home at the time but his work called him to let him know.

He then went to Ballymun Garda Station himself and handed over a mobile phone and his work laptop. His former wife later provided gardaí with other devices.

Gda Duffy confirmed that the images were found on the laptop Ashmore used for his work.

He later gave a voluntary interview to gardaí during which he claimed he believed he was engaging in WhatsApp conversations with scammers and said he had “no notion” of engaging with 13-year-old children.

He told gardaí he was “deeply regretful” and that he had been mentally unwell. He said his life was a mess and he had no interest in having sex with children.

Gda Duffy agreed with Fiona Murphy SC, defending, that the groups publicly identified Ashmore on social media and his marriage later ended.

She accepted that as she had no witness statements from the groups, Ashmore’s plea was of great assistance to the prosecution of his case.

Ms Murphy said her client’s father had died around that time and his elderly mother is now completely reliant on him.

He attends regularly for counselling and psychotherapy and Ms Murphy said he lives “a solitary and isolated lifestyle”, his only contact being with his mother and counsellor.

She asked the court to accept that as the images were cartoons, they were at the lower range of this type of offending. She said Ashmore is now on the sex offender’s register and has lost his job.

Judge Nolan said Ashmore had engaged in extensive and explicit conversations “with parties who he thought were aged in the region of 12 or 13 years old”.

He acknowledged his guilty pleas and cooperation with the garda investigation and he accepted he is unlikely to re-offend.

Judge Nolan accepted that Ashmore’s absence will cause great difficulty for his mother but that he was deserving of a custodial sentence before he jailed him for 16 months.

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