Northern Ireland

Man jailed for four years for sex with girl, 13

Belfast Crown Court
Image caption Gareth Freeman was jailed for four years at Belfast Crown Court

A paedophile who travelled from England to have sex with a 13-year-old Belfast schoolgirl was jailed for at least four years on Friday.

Gareth Freeman, 31, was told he will only be freed when the authorities deem it is safe to do so.

Judge Tom Burgess said Freeman presented a serious risk to the public, "the depth of which is not fully understood at the present".

He added: "This was a classic case of grooming."

Freeman, from Regent Street in Mirfield, west Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to meeting a child after sexual grooming, six counts of sexual activity with a child, a further six of possessing indecent images of a child and two of taking an indecent image of a child.

Judge Burgess told Belfast Crown Court: "From the outset he knew what he was doing was wrong."

The charges, which are all dated between 30 October and November 1 last year, arose after Freeman befriended the schoolgirl on a social network site before flying to Belfast where he had sex with the girl in an hotel.

Defence QC Arthur Harvey said that while the schoolgirl was blameless, when Freeman went on the internet looking for a girl her age, "he found a damaged individual who was looking for someone like him".

However, that did not in any sense "diminish his responsibility" and that Freeman's contribution to the continuing damage caused to the young girl, "may have been just as serious".

Earlier prosecuting lawyer Ian Tannihill told the court within days of beginning to chat with her, their talk became "highly sexualised" and he had talked her into sending him explicit pictures of herself, after which he sent pictures of himself to her.

During October 2009, just prior to his visit to Belfast, Freeman had bombarded the girl with nearly 4,000 text messages, including almost 100 media messages.