Man snared by Guardians of the North group after arranging to meet boy in Sunderland for sex

Crown Court
Crown Court

A man who thought he was meeting a 14-year-old boy for sex was caught by paedophile hunters.

Craig Bellfield arranged to meet the boy at a McDonald's restaurant in Ryhope, Sunderland, via a conversation on social media.

However the 29-year-old was confronted by a group called Guardians of the North who had set up the fake account to expose men looking for sex with children.

Newcastle Crown Court heard how Bellfield told the boy he was 24 during their initial conversation during the early hours of October 29.

The group, posing as a boy called Thomas, told Bellfield he was 14 but he still requested to meet the teenager.

Paul Rowland, prosecuting, told the court the group confronted Bellfield, who begged them not to go to the police, outside the fast food restaurant on October 29.

Bellfield, of Station Road, Houghton, was arrested and pleaded guilty at magistrates’ court on October 31 to attempting to groom a child under 16. He remained in custody until his sentencing at Newcastle Crown Court.

Lee Fish, defending, said Bellfield, who suffers from depression, was a socially isolated young man, whose experience in custody had been the most horrific of his life.

He told the court: "He has been in custody for seven weeks.

"He has lost his liberty for the first time in his life and it has been the most horrific experience of his life.

"I am as confident as perhaps I have ever been he has no desire to return there."

He argued that an immediate custodial sentence would not give Bellfield much opportunity for rehabilitation.

Judge Stephen Earl handed Bellfield a 12-month sentence suspended for two years and ordered him to complete 60 days of rehabilitation.

Judge Earl said: "On October 29, you engaged in what you believed was a conversation with a young 14-year-old boy.

"You told him you were 24, you are 29.

"What you believed was a wholly inappropriate relationship was forming online with this 14-year-old boy.

"It was clear that that was your intention; it was a clear attempt at meeting somebody with a sexual relationship in mind.

"You didn’t answer any questions in interview but you did plead guilty at the magistrates court at the first opportunity.

"You are yourself a man who is under a number of particular difficulties which means you are a person who is socially isolated and suffering from depression.

"It is absolutely clear to me that people who engage in this sort of activity in attempting to meet young children online for sex must get a custodial sentence."

The judge said he took into account the fact that there was no complainant in the traditional sense, given that there was no real child involved.

Judge Earl prohibited Bellfield from having any contact with a child under the age of 16, and also from possessing a device which could access the internet

without recording the history.