Hartlepool man who groomed girl, 14, for sex in paedophile hunter’s online sting is spared jail

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A Hartlepool man caught in an internet sting by online paedophile hunters today walked free from court.

Phillip Knight, 42, travelled from his home in Hartlepool to Halifax to meet what he believed was a 14-year-old girl he had been chatting to on social media.

Phillip Knight was given a two-year suspended sentence for grooming a made-up 14-year-old girl.

Phillip Knight was given a two-year suspended sentence for grooming a made-up 14-year-old girl.

Teesside Crown Court heard he planned to have sex with her.

But the ‘girl’ Knight knew as Little Laura was a creation of online paedophile investigator.

The judge said he was taking an “exceptional” course in allowing Knight to keep his freedom.

The court heard sex offenders have been caught in similar stings in Manchester, Leeds and Bradford.

Although he did make reference to being worried Laura may be an undercover police officer, he continued, saying ‘I can’t believe you are going to do this, we are going to meet and have sex’.

Sophie Drake, prosecuting

Laura’s online profile used a picture of an American actress and indicated she was interested in older men.

Prosecutor Sophie Drake said Phillip Knight talked about Laura’s virginity and other explicit language on social media side Badoo and phone messaging app Kik.

Ms Drake said: “Although the defendant was initially told Laura was 14, he said it was fine, they were just having friendly chat.

“But then the conversation became very sexualised, about bottom slapping, skinny dipping and later there was a suggestion of an arrangement to meet.”

Ms Drake added: “They did arrange to meet. The defendant said he would be gentle with her.

“He talked about getting a hotel room so they wouldn’t have to worry about her parents walking in.

“He agreed to bring alcohol, and although he did make reference to being worried Laura may be an undercover police officer, he continued, saying ‘I can’t believe you are going to do this, we are going to meet and have sex’.”

Knight, of Carlton Street, Hartlepool, was confronted by the investigator in Halifax in August 2013 and passed the information to police.

He was arrested in the December and later pleaded guilty to attempting to meet a child for sexual grooming.

Andrew Stranex, mitigating, said the offence was committed over a short period of time and added: “There was no actual child who was being communicated with.”

Mr Stranex said Knight had significant issues from his past that needed addressing through a sex offenders’ treatment programme.

Recorder Bryan Cox QC sentenced Knight to two years in prison, suspended for two years, with probation supervision.

He told Knight: “It is only with the public interest very much in mind as well as your own personal position that it persuaded that it’s appropriate and what I regard as an exceptional course.”