Disgraced Sunderland ex-councillor admits child sex offence at first court appearance

Paul Middleton arrives at South Tyneside Magistrates' Court.
Paul Middleton arrives at South Tyneside Magistrates' Court.

A former Sunderland councillor has pleaded guilty to sexually communicating with a child he thought was just 12-years-old after he was caught during a police sting.

Paul Middleton, who represented the Washington South ward, pleaded guilty to attempting to sexually communicate with a child under the age of 16.

He appeared at court in South Shields.

He appeared at court in South Shields.

South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court heard the 44-year-old was speaking to a girl he believed to be just 12-years-old and living in a care home, over an online chat room in September 2017.

But it was actually an undercover officer, who had set up an identity as a 12-year-old child as part of a police operation.

Rebecca Laverick, prosecuting, said: “The officer identified herself as being 13 in April. He said he was aged 43.”

The court heard that the conversation turned sexual. The "girl" told Middleton she was in a care home and he asked if she had "done it" with anyone who lived there.

Middleton was charged last month with attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

Middleton was charged last month with attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

Alistair Naismith, mitigating, said Middleton is previously of good character and cooperated with police when he was arrested.

He added: “It is of course an attempt rather than the full offence.”

District Judge Roger Elsey told Middleton, who wore a black suit and carried a green coat, that he would appear before Newcastle Crown Court on January 10 for sentencing.

Sunderland City Council have today confirmed that Middleton is no longer a councillor.

The 44-year-old was first elected in 2015, and was suspended by the Labour Party in June pending an investigation. Since then, he has been listed as an "independent" councillor.

Last week, Sunderland City Council confirmed that if he did not attend a council meeting by midnight on December 6, he would lose his position with the local authority.

He last attended a meeting on the Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee on June 6, 2018.

A Sunderland City Council spokesman told the Echo: "Paul Middleton last attended a council meeting on Wednesday, June 6 2018, when he attended the Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee.

"Under section 85 of the Local Government Act 1972, if a councillor fails throughout a period of six consecutive months from the date of their last attendance to attend any meeting of the authority, they shall, unless the failure was due to some reason approved by the authority before the expiry of that period, cease to be a member of the authority.

"Mr Middleton had not attended a meeting as of midnight Thursday, December 6 2018, he therefore ceased to be a member and the council will declare a vacancy at its next meeting.

"Where a casual vacancy occurs within six months before the day on which the councillor whose office is vacant would regularly have retired, the vacancy is filled at the next ordinary election."