Former mayor jailed after trying to meet boy for sex
A former mayor who tried to meet a boy for sex has been jailed for 12 months.
Lee Cook was caught in a sting operation by anti-child abuse campaign group Guardians of the North.
Cook, who resigned as Mayor of Peterlee after his arrest, sent intimate pictures of himself to what he thought was a 15-year-old boy.
He sent a series of messages making it clear he wanted to meet the boy for sex, Durham Crown Court heard.
"Cook used the internet dating app Grindr," said Robin Turton, prosecuting.
"He began a conversation with what he thought was a 15-year-old boy, but was in fact an adult member of the Guardians of the North group posing as a boy.
"Cook sent intimate photographs of himself and engaged in explicit sexual conversation.
"It was made clear to Cook the other party was 15-years-old.
"Cook arranged to meet, and when asked what he expected to happen at the meeting, he made it clear he expected there to be sexual activity.
"When he turned up at the meeting, Cook was detained by members of Guardians of the North."
Mr Turton said Cook initially claimed he was talking to an adult and he thought the use of the figure 15 referred to the distance between the pair.
Cook, 26 ,of Quantock Place, Peterlee, admitted attempting to meet a boy under 16 years following grooming on March 20.
Penny Bottomley, defending, said in mitigation: "Mr Cook does have a previous caution for a public order offence, but he has no previous convictions and is effectively a man of good
"He has done much good work in his community, including voluntary work.
"There has been punishment already in that he has been the subject of death threats.
"These have caused him to move house and at one stage be remanded in custody for his own safety.
"It was the attempted form of the offence, no children were involved by being sent inappropriate material or by being spoken to inappropriately.
"The person at the other end of the conversation was an adult, even if Mr Cook thought it was a child.
"Mr Cook has suffered a recent seizure, which will make what will be his first period in custody even harder to bear."
The Recorder, Mr Peter Makepeace jailed Cook for 12 months.
"I accept you have been brought low by this offence," the recorder told Cook.
"I accept you have been the target of vigilantes and prison will be hard for you.
"But all that is ultimately of your own making.
"Having regard to your mitigation and plea of guilty, I can reduce the sentence to 12 months.
"But custody in this case will have to be immediate."
Cook was made the subject of a five-year order banning from having unsupervised contact with children.
He must register as a sex offender for 10 years.
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Fortunately in this case Cook’s intended victim was not real but he was fully aware of the boy’s age and groomed his young victim with the intention of sexually abusing him.
“This kind of predatory activity can ruin childhoods, with the devastating effects lasting into adulthood.
“Cook must be policed effectively on his release from prison to help reduce any risk he poses to children while it is vital that social media providers take action to keep children safe more effectively on their platforms.”