A MAN from Hartlepool groomed a 14-year-old schoolgirl for months online then got her to travel hundreds of miles from her home to have sex with him in a tent he pitched in isolated sand dunes, a court has heard.
Sean Clode, 21, and the girl – who cannot be identified – were found by a police helicopter on the beach on the outskirts of Hartlepool the day after she was reported missing by her frantic parents, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Her father had set off looking for her from Northern Scotland and was on his way to the North East after her mobile phone was traced to the area when she was found, the jury heard.
Clode, of Glamis Walk, denies sexual grooming, abducting a child and two counts of sexual activity with a child. The alleged offences were said to have happened in May.
Tattooed Clode and the girl had been communicating for months over the internet after striking up a friendship playing Xbox games, the jury heard.
She asked her mother if she could stay at a friend’s house after school on Friday May 24 after showing a text message from the girl’s mother inviting her over.
But the jury was told the girl did not go to school, and instead travelled by train to Hartlepool. She had explained it was a non-uniform day at school.
When the friend’s mother texted the girl’s parents at 7pm that night to say their daughter had not arrived for the sleep-over, the police were called.
Eventually her parents got through to her on her mobile, the jury heard.
Matthew Bean, prosecuting, said: “She was asked to come home. She simply said she would be home the following day. She gave no idea where she was.”
Friends of the girl passed on information that she may be in Edinburgh, so her father set off for the capital.
“Meanwhile, police were able to establish from her mobile telephone that she was in fact in the Hartlepool area and as a result of this information (the father) continued his journey down to Hartlepool.”
At 2.30pm on Saturday, the day after she went missing, the police helicopter which was looking for the girl located a tent with two people in it on dunes.
Police officers arrived shortly after and Clode was arrested. Two used condoms were found outside the tent.
The jury was told the girl and the defendant had chatted online every day and had told each other they were in love.
On the day she was supposed to go on the sleep-over, she had bought a tent and took a train to Hartlepool, where Clode met her and they took a taxi to the dunes.
Mr Bean said: “The prosecution accept that (the girl) willingly agreed to travel down to meet the defendant. You may also find she was aware they may have sex.
“The defendant knew however that (the girl) was a young teenage girl and by this time he was 21. Rather than bringing the online conversations to an end, he allowed them to continue over many months.”
Having “manipulated” her, the prosecution said, he took her to an isolated spot, and although he must have been aware that her parents knew she was missing, he told no-one where she was that night. Mr Bean said the reason was because he intended to have sex with her.
“He knew that (the girl) should be with her parents, yet he decided to take her to the beach, where he would spend the night with her.”
The day after police found them, the girl told police in a videoed interview that they had sex several times during the night, the court heard.
But in a further interview around four weeks later she said they had not had sex, and that she had touched him intimately, then herself, while he slept, jurors were told.
Mr Bean said: “Whether out of misplaced loyalty to the defendant or perhaps embarrassment about what had happened, she was giving an account to protect the defendant or stop him getting into trouble.”
He said there was scientific and medical evidence which supported the account she first told police.
Clode told police they had not had sex and denied arranging the meeting, claiming she rang him on May 24 to tell him she had arrived in Hartlepool.
Asked about her concerned family, he told officers: “I knew that they would be worried but I just really was not prepared to put myself in a situation.”