Toddler snatched from Primark store 'at risk of serious harm'
A judge who sentenced two teenage girls for kidnapping a toddler from a Primark store concluded she was at risk of serious harm having heard of troubling internet searches about rape and exploitation found on a tablet computer.
The younger of the defendants, who are aged just 13 and 14, had been groomed by an unknown man and swapped sexual messages on the chat site ooVoo, Newcastle Crown Court heard.
Both had tried to claim that they abducted the two-year-old on April 13 from the city centre store in Newcastle following pressure from a third party. But police found there was no evidence of anyone else being involved in the kidnap which resulted in the little girl coming to no harm.
Mr Justice Globe sentenced them to three years and three months' detention.
The girls had already tried to entice another two-year-old from her mother in the same shop where they had spent many hours that day. They tried to trick the mother into looking in the wrong part of the children's section of the store when they tried to kidnap her girl.
Sarah Barlow, prosecuting, said the girls found their kidnap victim at 4pm.
"They offered her sweets. That's indicative of the level of planning, they had taken with them things likely to attract a child to them.
"They were playing with her. (The toddler) was running to and from the girls.
"Her mother was not suspicious, she simply thought the girls were playing with her daughter and were being quite sweet. This went on for some 15 minutes."
After they successfully grabbed the other child, her mother banged her head against a wall in the store and was "utterly distraught" when she realised her daughter had been taken.
Ms Barlow said the CCTV from the lift showed the girls looking anxious, indicating "they knew at that stage what they were doing was wrong".
CCTV captured the moment the toddler walked out of Primark holding hands with the older girl.
On the Metro system, witnesses saw them giving the girl sweets and offered her Coca-Cola.
One of them was overheard saying: "Don't worry, we will get you to your mummy."
Ms Barlow added: "Of course she was not, she was travelling in the opposite direction."
They travelled from the city centre to Gosforth, where a police officer tracked the group down to a park.
They had given her sweets, Coca-Cola and stole dummies, milk and a bottle for the girl.
She was reunited with her mother after two hours following a major search operation involving CCTV checks across the city.
After the girls were arrested, the younger girl's tablet was analysed, Ms Barlow said.
Of 1,185 internet searches made since she got the device for Christmas, 402 were of a pornographic nature.
"It began with searches in relation to teenagers having sex, kids having sex, it moved on to topics such as forced sex, slavery, girls collected and trained, torment, people getting raped, children having sex, also searches in relation to abduction and dragged into a van and raped."
Weeks before the kidnapping, her mother noticed the tablet was ringing at night and found "vile" pornographic images on it, and the girl told her she had been contacted by a man.
The police and her school were informed.
Julie Clemitson, defending the younger girl, said her client had been sexually exploited, adding: "She is a damaged, vulnerable young girl."
Andrew Walker, for the older defendant, said she had displayed maternal instincts through her life and had never harmed a child.
She said a man she referred to as "Nazzer" told them to take a child and she claimed he was with them on the day the toddler was taken. Extensive checks of hours of CCTV showed that was a lie, the court heard. Police were convinced they acted alone.
Neither girl had a criminal record.
Ms Clemitson stressed the girls had not sought to hide the toddler, and appeared to refer to the case of toddler James Bulger, who was snatched in a shopping centre.
She said: "The court is well aware that there has been children, fortunately very rare instances, who have been prepared to do wicked things to other children, to take them off and do wicked things."
Mr Justice Globe, who was a junior counsel in the prosecution of Bulger case, said: "The reality is that those children also were also taken through shopping centres and public streets, in the full gaze of many members of the public."
Witnesses reported seeing the little girl being swung, played with and carried by the kidnappers.
They pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to a charge of kidnap and shop lifting.
The judge declined to lift an order preventing the defendants from being named.