A JUDGE urged parents to be aware that predatory paedophiles may use online gaming as a means of contacting under age children.

The warning was issued by Judge Christopher Prince after he imposed a four-year extended prison sentence on Stephen Quinnell, who has previous convictions arising from a court heard was, “a sexual pre-occupation with young boys”.

Durham Crown Court was told his latest offence involved him befriending a 13-year-old fellow competitor in a shared online game of Xbox’s Call of Duty.

Loading article content

Quinnell, 33, was said to have introduced himself to other players as, ‘Steve, a 34-year-old actor from Chester-le-Street’.

Richard Bennett, prosecuting, said after other players left the game, Quinnell exchanged details with the boy and asked him to make contact via the live messaging network Skype.

Mr Bennett said over the course of five subsequent Skype link-ups, Quinnell turned the conversation onto sexual matters, culminating in him claiming to have performed a sex act on himself, before urging the boy to follow suit in front of his web camera.

The horrified youngster immediately switched his computer off, but later told another player what had taken place.

He was urged to inform his parents, which the boy did, and his shocked mother reported Quinnell’s actions to their local police force in the south-west of England.

Mr Bennett said based on the description and details given by the victim, the Durham force were informed and visited Quinnell’s home in Allen Street, Chester-le-Street, on May 1.

He was arrested and his computer and gaming equipment were seized.

Quinnell admitted taking part in the online game, but denied trying to coerce the boy into performing a sex act.

But, at an earlier hearing, he admitted causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Referring to Quinnell’s offending history, Mr Bennett told the court: “It’s evident he has a long-term sexual interest in young children, starting with a caution in 2001 for indecent assault.”

He said this was followed by several appearances for downloading indecent images of children, for which he was jailed for 24 weeks in August 2009, having flouted previous restrictions from obtaining such material on the internet.

Mr Bennett said the latest offence was in breach of a sexual offences prevention order and suspended prison sentence imposed at Newcastle Crown Court, in January, also for downloading indecent child images.

Brian Hegarty, mitigating, said the latest offence did not go beyond incitement, as the boy did not actually engage in any sexual activity.

He added that the game itself has an age rating of 18, and Quinnell initially contacted an adult inquiring if he could join the online game.

Jailing Quinnell, Judge Prince also made him subject of a further sexual offences prevention order, and ordered confiscation of the seized confiscation.

As he is subject to an extended sentence, Quinnell will not be released until he has served two-thirds of the four-year period and will then remain on licence for a further five years.

Judge Prince added: “One hopes this will alert parents to the dangers of children gaming online."

Mr Bennett told the court there were no barriers to anyone joining such games, enabling them to communicate with potentially very young players.