Sunderland care home manager could keep job despite attempting to meet underage boy for sex

Liam Evis Barnett outside of Sunderland Magistrates Court.
Liam Evis Barnett outside of Sunderland Magistrates Court.

A Sunderland care home manager could keep his job despite admitting he attempted to meet an underage boy for sex.

Liam Evis Barnett had been chatting to someone he knew as 14-year-old ‘Ryan’ on gay dating app Grindr, Sunderland Magistrates heard.

Liam Evis Barnett outside of Sunderland Magistrates Court.

Liam Evis Barnett outside of Sunderland Magistrates Court.

However, the 29-year-old - described in court as a valued member of staff by his bosses - had been communicating with a fake profile set up by vigilante group Guardians of the North.

And when Barnett, formerly of Tunstall Terrace, Sunderland, set up a meeting with ‘Ryan’ at his home, the court heard he was instead confronted by members of the group, who informed police.

Prosecutor Angela Narey said: “Mr Barnett is a 29-year-old from Sunderland who was involved in talking to a 14-year-old called Ryan.

“However, it was a profile set up by an organisation called Guardians of the North, an internet-based group formed to identify and apprehend individuals who make contact with fake profiles of underage children.

The conversations continued to the point where Mr Barnett invited Ryan to his home address – instead, three individuals from Guardians of the North turned up outside

Angela Narey, prosecuting

“Guardians of the North had made a profile on gay dating app Grindr, using a picture of a boy found on Google images.”

Miss Narey said the group also set up a profile for Ryan using the same picture on messenger service Kik.

She said: “Mr Barnett made contact trough Grindr with Ryan, who disclosed he was 14.

“He maintained contact through Kik, exchanging messages that were sexually explicit.

“The conversations continued to the point where Mr Barnett invited Ryan to his home address.

“Instead, three individuals from Guardians of the North turned up outside.”

The group called police and handed over chat logs of Barnett’s conversations with ‘Ryan’.

He was arrested, telling police: “I’m going to lose my job over this aren’t I?”

Barnett, who gave his address in court as Glencairn Grove, in Hartlepool, pleaded guilty to a charge between September 19 and October 6, last year, of attempting to cause a male aged 13 or over to engage in penetrative sexual activity, by explicit conversation, not reasonably believing they were aged over 16.

The court heard he is of previous good character, bar a caution for shop theft.

Cheryl Ford, defending, said: “The defendant doesn’t seek to disagree with any of the facts and fully accepts what’s happened.

“He tells me he’s been using gay dating app Grindr since he was 17, making it 13 years. It is an app for gay people to meet for sexual activity.

“He had a strong suspicion that the person he had been communicating with was a fake profile.

“He thought it was an older man who wanted him to carry out his own sexual fantasies.

“He didn’t perhaps believe him to be a 14-year-old male when he invited him to his property for sexual activity.

“I feel for the defendant in some respects, he is of no previous convictions.

“He is a professional young man who has never had an issues such as these previously.

“He works in a care home as a manager and has just completed a Level 5 NVQ.

“Fortunately, he conveyed information to his manager - the owner of the business - who put safeguards in place, and he will retain that position with this company, provided he doesn’t go to prison, because she values him so much.”

The bench asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared by the Probation Service, with all options open, including custody.

Barnett will be sentenced at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court at 2pm on March 21.