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Man who groomed and had sex with vulnerable teen is jailed for two years

By George Jackson

Published 23/06/2016

Bernard Cooke is taken from Londonderry court after being sentenced for child sex offences
Bernard Cooke is taken from Londonderry court after being sentenced for child sex offences

A man who pleaded guilty to sexually grooming and having sex with a vulnerable 13-year-old girl when she lived in a children's home was jailed for two years at the Crown Court in Londonderry yesterday.

Bernard Cooke (23), whose address was given as Maghaberry Prison, committed the offences in October 2014, the same month when he was served with a Harbourer's Notice by the police warning him not to have any contact with the girl, who was named on court papers as "Z".

Cooke has also been banned from having unapproved contact with any child under 16, unless unavoidable or inadvertent, and banned from entering the curtilage, grounds or buildings of any residential children's home in Northern Ireland.

Those orders, as well as a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO), will remain in force for 10 years.

Judge Philip Babington said he was satisfied that it was necessary to make a SOPO for the purpose of protecting the public or particular members of the public from serious sexual harm from Cooke.

The defendant had 30 previous criminal convictions, one of them for administering poison to a prison officer.

He was arrested at 11.30pm on October 8, 2014, when staff in the children's home informed the police Cooke was in the girl's room.

The police entered the room and found the teenager in bed. They found Cooke hiding behind a door in the adjoining en-suite area. He was fully clothed.

The girl was medically examined and forensic samples were taken.

An analysis of the samples confirmed the presence of Cooke's semen and the girl told the doctor she had had sexual intercourse with Cooke on one occasion.

The grooming charge related to Cooke sending text messages to the girl who replied to one of his texts "I want to go steady".

Judge Babington said Cooke's offending had escalated in its seriousness, though he had no previous convictions of a sexual nature.

"There is no doubt to my mind that he has been properly assessed as presenting at a high likelihood of future and general reoffending," he said.

"Furthermore, his behaviour in coming to the children's home following the serving of a Harbourer's Notice is very concerning. It is probably fair to say that staff and police arrived just in time before further offending might have been committed," Judge Babington added.

"Of concern to the court is an eight-and-a-half-year age difference between Z and the defendant.

"It is difficult to know whether there was any harm to Z as she has not made any statement nor is there any victim impact report. She was only 13 and it is only fair to assume that there must have been some harm, although it is safe to probably assume that it is minimal," Judge Babington said.

Judge Babington told Cooke: "You are prohibited from having any contact or communication with any child under 16 years, other than such as is inadvertent and not reasonably avoidable in the course of lawful daily life unless with prior approval of your designated risk manager and social services in writing.

"You are prohibited from denying police entry to your home when their purpose is to enforce the SOPO conditions. I am satisfied that the SOPO should remain in force for a period of 10 years, being the same as the notification provisions."

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