Former Dragons' Den star Doug Richard cleared of child sex charges
A former Dragons' Den star who engaged in 50 Shades of Grey role play with an under-age girl has been cleared of child sex charges.
Doug Richard, 57, exchanged "sexy chat" with the 13-year-old after meeting her on a 'sugar daddy' website and went on to act out his fantasies when she travelled from her home in Norwich to meet him.
But the American millionaire, who once advised Prime Minister David Cameron, told jurors that at the time he believed she was an experienced 17-year-old and insisted he would never "knowingly" have sex with a child.
The court heard he gave the girl and a friend who accompanied her £60 each in cash, which Richard insisted was a "gift" and not payment.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for four hours and 15 minutes before finding Richard, of Islington, north London, not guilty of three counts of sexual activity with a child, one of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and a charge of paying for sexual services.
Richard was emotional as the verdicts were delivered and left the court in tears.
The trial had heard how Richard met the girl through an American website called Seeking Arrangement at the end of 2014.
He listed his profile as a "sugar daddy" while the 13-year-old girl called herself a "sugar baby", jurors were told.
Deleted iChat exchanges recovered from the defendant's Apple MacBook revealed how Richard suggested they meet after school in December 2014.
He also asked her for a sexy photograph with "less clothing more revealing positions" the court heard.
He instructed her to do a "submissive pose" on hands and knees "so I can see you helpless and exposed", adding: "By the way I'm officially horny."
She told him she was doing it "now" saying: "You are my new daddy I will do anything to keep you happy."
When she asked about what kind of punishment he would give her, he said that he wanted to "paddle her ass until it's bright red", jurors were told.
Prosecutor Gino Connor said they arranged to meet in London and the defendant made a payment of £120 through PayPal for train fares and pre-booked an apartment.
The 13-year-old travelled with a 15-year-old friend to Liverpool Street Station on the morning of January 2 last year and met Richard at a nearby cafe.
According to the older girl's account, Richard took them to the flat in Bishopsgate where he ordered the 13-year-old to strip after she had rejected his invitation to be his "slave".
He then spanked the naked girl seven times and ordered her to perform a sex act on him before they went into the bedroom, the 15-year-old said.
Afterwards, he gave them £120 and they left to go shopping at American Apparel and head home.
Events came to light when the older girl's mother spotted a PayPal deposit in her daughter's account, the court heard.
The married father-of-three disputed the older girl's account but admitted engaging in various sex acts with her friend.
Giving evidence, he spoke of his secret "addiction" to 50 Shades of Grey role play over the four years he had been using the sugar daddy website.
As well as having online relationships, he had also arranged to meet young women in their 20s for sex on occasion.
He said: "As mortifying as it is to say, I was looking for role play and fantasy relationships involving dominance and submission."
Richard told jurors that he would never "knowingly" have sex with a child.
He said: "I feel terrible. I feel terrible for her and I feel terrible about myself. I feel terrible for my wife and children."
The defendant added that he was now trying to address his "addiction" with therapy.
He told the court that the reputation of his School for Startups business, which brought him into contact with the Government, had been "shattered" as a result of the case.
Richard left the Old Bailey accompanied by his solicitor. He refused to comment as he was greeted by a crowd of photographers.