Belfast Telegraph

Man jailed for posing as teen girl to sexually communicate with boy (11)

Robert McClaren who was jailed this afternoon at Belfast Crown Court
Robert McClaren who was jailed this afternoon at Belfast Crown Court

By Ashleigh McDonald

A 34-year-old labourer from Co Tyrone who set up a fake Facebook profile of a young girl in a bid to communicate sexually with an 11-year-old boy has been jailed.

Robert McClaren admitted 22 charges, including inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, after it emerged the schoolboy sent naked images of himself to the fake profile.

McClaren was also found to be in possession of thousands of indecent images of children when his laptop and mobile were seized and examined by police.

Dungannon Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that after seeing the schoolboy on the street, McClaren tracked him down online. He then set up the fake profile of a girl called "Megan Mac" and via this profile, contacted the boy.

Communication began and resulted in the boy sending naked pictures to who he thought was a girl his own age.

Handing McClaren, from Campie Avenue in Omagh, a sentence of three-and-a-half years, Judge Stephen Fowler QC said he "devoted considerable time and effort into the preparation of his predatory, paedophilic activities."

Before he passed the sentence, Judge Fowler was told by Crown barrister Ciaran Harvey that on July 9, 2015, a 13-year-old boy attended Dungannon police station with his mother.

The teenager said he had received sexual explicit messages and pictures via Facebook from "Paul James" - a man he didn't know and had never heard of. The messages contained details of what "Paul" wanted to do sexually to the boy, accompanied by a picture of a naked man holding his penis.

An investigation was launched, which led police to McClaren. His home was searched on July 17, 2016 and items including his computer and phone were removed for forensic analysis.

Indecent images of children were found and one picture on his mobile phone was an image of a boy who had taken a naked selfie.

Enquiries were made to establish the identity of the boy, and it later emerged he was the 11-year-old who McClaren had seen on the street in his school uniform, and who he had targeted using a fake Facebook profile.

When McClaren was arrested, he initially denied any wrongdoing, but later made full admissions and pleaded guilty to 22 offences ranging from possessing indecent images to inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

As well setting up fake Facebook profile, he also admitted doing the same thing on Snapchat and Instagram.

Mr Harvey said thousands of indecent images of children were located on McClaren's devices which "indicated a sexual interest in children". The prosecutor said McClaren was also "actively encouraging children to send him pictures of themselves".

A defence barrister said McClaren was a socially isolated man with a low intellectual capacity from a socially deprived background whose "only companion was the internet".

The barrister also revealed trauma in his client's background and said: "He took to drinking. He was living on his own, consuming alcohol and he developed a relationship with the computer which led to the accessing these images."

Branding this relationship as "unhealthy", the defence barrister added: "There is a serious need for him to develop an insight into the nature of his offending behaviour, and the effect that behaviour has had upon the young victims in this case."

Judge Fowler also spoke of the two boys and said McClaren's pleas spared them the "ordeal" of coming to court and giving evidence in a trial.

The Judge handed McClaren a three-and-a-half year sentence which will be divided equally between custody and licence. He was also placed on the Sex Offenders Register indefinitely and was made the subject of a seven-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

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