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suspended sentence Judge says sex offender should thank 'predator catcher' group for avoiding prison

Child sex pervert avoids jail time for graphic photos and texts he sent to 'boy'

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Mark Wolfe (right)

Mark Wolfe (right)

Mark Wolfe (right)

A pervert caught by self-styled paedophile hunters has escaped jail because he was "humiliated" enough by the vigilantes.

Mark Wolfe had thought he was meeting a young boy for sex in 2017 but in actual fact the 'child' he had been sending explicit sex messages to was in reality an adult working for controversial group Predator Catchers NI.

Wolfe, who was 27 years old at the time, had been exchanging "highly explicit and graphic" texts and photos with, what he believed, was a young boy and had set up a meeting.

This week a judge told Dungannon Magistrates Court 31-year-old Wolfe, from Strabane, should "thank Predator Catchers Northern Ireland" for not being sent straight to jail.

Judge Michael Ranaghan said the manner in which they detained and humiliated Wolfe, while live-streaming the incident, and the fact it had been seen by thousands of people meant he gave him a suspended sentence.

This week we spoke to Mark Wolfe at his home in Strabane.

He politely told us: "I don't want to go into all of that now, it was a long time ago and I'm glad it's all over."

Several child perverts have been convicted in courts across Northern Ireland after being targeted in stings by such vigilante groups.

This week Mark Wolfe joined that list after he was convicted of attempting to communicate sexually with a young boy.

Wolfe had denied the charge but was convicted after a contested hearing.

Dungannon Magistrates Court heard on in December 2017, police were called following a report Wolfe was being detained by Predator Catchers Northern Ireland.

They had set up a decoy communicating with Wolfe online and a meeting was arranged in Dungannon, which was live-streamed on Facebook.

On arrival, a PSNI officer was handed print-outs of communications and Wolfe's phone was seized.

He was arrested and over the course of two interviews gave 'no comment' responses, except to admit the phone was his.

On examination it was found to contain "highly explicit and graphic" communication between Wolfe and the decoy, who he believed was a boy, in both written and photographic form, which are too shocking and severe to report in a family newspaper.

Defence counsel said the facts were never in dispute and the contest was on a legal point.

He described the behaviour Wolfe was subjected to by the so-called paedophile hunters as "intimidating and humiliating, and all broadcast live.

"None of this was necessary. They could have given the material to police to deal with in the appropriate way. It was self-aggrandisement.

"No arrests were made for assault, threats to kill and potential false imprisonment of my client.

"Whatever he was accused of, that was not the way to deal with it in a civilised society. Public humiliation by putting people in the stocks went out of fashion years ago."

District Judge Michael Ranaghan told the court: "This court has a duty to impose deterrent sentences on those who attempt to target the most vulnerable in society for sexual purposes, in this instance children.

"The defendant thought he was talking to a boy. His actions are at the highest level of culpability, but absent an identifiable victim, the lowest level for harm.

"There can be no doubt the custody threshold is breached in a case where a then 27-year-old man attempted to engage a boy, both through sexual conversation and images."

Imposing a four-month prison term the judge said: "I have to view sentencing of this type of offence globally and the risk it poses to children generally. Only a custodial sentence is proportionate."

However, taking into account the actions of the so-called paedophile hunters Judge Ranghan said: "Their involvement was unnecessary - they acted purely to humiliate and degrade the defendant.

"Their actions to my mind were criminal and streamed to a significant body of people on social media. They enjoyed their moment in the spotlight for whatever twisted reason they had.

"I take nothing away from the disgust a court must show in attempting to communicate sexually with a child, but I cannot turn my eyes from the effect the actions of the paedophile hunters had, firstly on potential of this prosecution and secondly, the defendant.

"What they did has probably punished him more than any form of immediate custody I could impose."

He concluded: "The defendant can thank Predator Catchers Northern Ireland, primarily for my decision to suspend the sentence for two years."

Wolfe was also placed on the Sex Offender Register and made subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order - both for five years.

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