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Tyrone man appears in court following online paedophile-hunter group sting

Online grooming

A County Tyrone man has appeared in court accused of attempted child sexual communication following a sting by an online paedophile-hunter group.

Nigel Andrew William Harpur (52) from Derg View, Castlederg is charged with committing the offence to obtain sexual gratification on days between 1 January and February 20, 2024.

A police officer told Dungannon Magistrates’ Court the charge could be connected.

She explained shortly after 8pm on the evening in question, police responded to a report from a group named Children & Survivor Online Protection Team, who stated they had located male who had been exchanging sexual messages with a decoy presenting as a 14-year-old child.

Harpur was arrested and copies of messages were provided to police who found them to be of a sexual nature.

During interview Harpur was asked if he had attempted to engage in sexual communication with a child and replied “like talk to them? Yes.”

He was given an opportunity to disclose anything he wished police to know and said: “I’m putting my hands up. There’s no point in wasting your time. It’s on my phone anyway. There’s no point in me trying to blow smoke so I’m putting my hands up.”

Objecting to bail, the officer while acknowledging full admissions were made said: “Police have concerns as he stated during interview that he enjoyed talking to children, and may be a risk to others.”

She set out the content of some of the messages to a proposed 14-year-old-child, which included him stating he was sexually aroused and asked if they knew what that meant.

The decoy replied: “No, not really.”

Harpur then said he was going for a cold shower as “man hormones getting the better of me.”

In another message he said: “If you were four years older I’d ask you out.”

He also said: “You’re 14, I’m 42, so you want to stop talking?”

The officer said: “It’s quite clear the defendant was aware he believed he was talking to a 14-year-old child, to whom he was sending these totally inappropriate messages. He has also stated in interview he has spoken with other children.”

Harpur’s laptop and phone have been seized and there will be ongoing investigation into these devices, to establish if there are any other victims.

A defence barrister said: “I understand the concerns this type of case causes, but the defendant does not have a relevant record and is not under investigation for any other offence of any kind. He made a full and frank admission during interview and before any evidence was put to him. This is the type of case in which the court can manage any perceived risk by the imposition of very stringent conditions, including limiting access to internet-enabled devices and banning contact with anyone under 18.”

District Judge Michael Ranaghan remarked: “These cases are difficult and very emotive. It could be said the defendant was bang to rights, so the acceptance of guilt is a double edged sword. Despite my own reticence and hatred of this type of offence, I feel risk can be managed.”

Bail was set at £500 and Harper was ordered to reside at an address approved by police and must not have contact with any child without social services intervention.

He is also not to be in possession of any internet-capable device and will be electronically tagged.

The case will return to court on February 28.

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