A 45-year-old man who tried to meet what he thought were two young boys for sex has been spared jail.
Graham Thistlethwaite, from Catterick Garrison, arranged to meet what he thought were under-age boys and made the journey hoping to have sex with them, Teesside Crown Court heard.
But he had been lured into a trap by adult decoys on Facebook posing as youngsters, said prosecutor Michael Smith.
Thistlethwaite was caught out when he responded to a lewd comment, meant as a joke, made by someone on Facebook which gave rise to suspicions about the Catterick man’s sexual intentions.
“The defendant replied to that message and at first (the adult decoy) thought it was a friend messing around, but came to realise that wasn’t the case,” said Mr Smith.
Although the named decoy’s Facebook profile showed he was a delivery driver, he told Thistlethwaite his age was 12 to entrap him.
Following an exchange of messages, Thistlethwaite sent a picture of his genitals to what he may initially have thought was an adult, said Mr Smith.
“But it’s clear that (the decoy) said repeatedly he was 12 and the defendant accepted this,” he added.
“The conversations between them became sexual, with the defendant describing what he wanted to do with the boy.”
Thistlethwaite gave his car registration details and his address to the decoy and arrangements were made to meet up.
On one occasion, Thistlethwaite drove out to meet what he thought was a boy in Colburn and was captured on CCTV.
In fact, the decoy had given Thistlethwaite another address and the owner gave him short shrift.
Although Thistlethwaite feared the police were onto him, there were more sex chats and conversations about meeting up with the boy.
Thistlethwaite said he would like to see the boy naked and have sex with him.
About a week later, Thistlethwaite was in touch with another decoy on social media who was a friend of the original ‘victim’ and pretended to be a 13-year-old schoolfriend of the aforesaid.
The second decoy told Thistlethwaite he had heard he “liked young boys”, told him he was 13 years’ old and asked him “if 13 was too young”.
“The defendant said ‘no, you are not’,” added Mr Smith.
Thistlethwaite said he would like to take his clothes off and perform a lewd act on him, and then sent the social media user a picture of himself in just his boxer shorts.
“He gave his car registration and arrangements were made to meet up in a local car park,” said the prosecutor.
Thistlethwaite turned up for what he hoped would be a sexual encounter but instead was met by the adult decoy and two of his friends who blocked him in with their cars and called police.
He was duly arrested.
Mr Smith said Thistlethwaite had used “grooming” techniques to “persistently make himself available” to the ‘boys’.
Thistlethwaite, of Essex Close, admitted three charges including attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child and trying to meet a 12-year-old boy for sexual purposes.
He also admitted attempting to meet a 13-year-old boy for sexual activity. The offences occurred between February and March last year.
Neil Cutte, for Thistlethwaite, said his client had learning difficulties and mental health problems.
He had led a previously blame-free life and had no track record for this sort of behaviour.
Since his arrest, Thistlethwaite had been assessed by two psychiatrists who said he had difficulties with “social functioning”.
Thistlethwaite was a lonely man who had had a difficult relationship with his late mother, added Mr Cutte.
Recorder Craig Hassall QC said the offences were so serious that a jail sentence must follow, but that he could suspend this because of Thistlethwaite’s mental health health problems and lack of previous convictions.
The 22-month prison sentence was suspended for two years.
Thistlethwaite was also placed on the sex-offenders’ register for ten years and made subject to a sexual-harm prevention order.
He was also ordered to engage in a sexual-offenders’ programme and complete a 40-day rehabilitation course.