A MAN in his thirties posed as a 17-year-old to deceive a much younger girl into sexualised online exchanges, a court heard.

Stephen Briggs, then aged 31, created the fake profile of ‘Cameron Gowan’ on Snapchat and Facebook chat groups used by young people.

Durham Crown Court was told he purported to be 17, and soon after starting to chat to a 13-year-old girl, in June 2019, he began exchanging sexualised texts and moving images of himself performing a sex act.

The nature of the messaging came to light when the girl’s sister saw the contents of her sibling’s phone and informed their mother, in March last year.

Police were informed and they were able to trace the messages as coming from Briggs’ home IP address and mobile phone.

The numerous number of messages and images, sent in the name of Cameron Gowan, were found on his phone.

Despite the apparent overwhelming evidence of the source of the messages, Briggs claimed his phone must have been hacked.

The 33-year-old, of Oakley Green, West Auckland, maintained those claims when he denied a charge of sexual communication with a child, at a plea hearing in July, when a trial date was set for November.

But, at a pre-trial hearing, at the court on Monday, his counsel, Stephen Hamill, asked for the charge to be put once again.

Briggs changed his plea, admitting the offence, and sentence was adjourned for preparation of a probation report, in which the court heard he still, “minimised” his guilt.

Jonathan Harley, prosecuting, told the sentencing hearing that in a victim statement the girl’s mother said Briggs’ false denials had drawn out the suffering of her daughters for more than a year, and felt it had ruined the lives of her young girls, creating trust issues with older men.

Stephen Hamill, for Briggs, said: “He is truly sorry for prolonging the matter and for the harm the delay has caused everyone in this case.”

Mr Hamill said his client has found it hard to accept what he did because he was “truly petrified” of the consequences, but since the offending he has stopped using such social media and is, “disgusted with himself”.

Imposing an 11-month prison sentence, Judge Ray Singh said Briggs’ suggestion someone must have hacked his phone was, “fanciful”, and reminded him he had warned him of the strength of the evidence when he first appeared at the plea hearing, in July.

But it was advice the defendant chose to ignore, prolonging the anxiety of the victim, fearing she would have to give evidence at trial.

“Why was it done?” said Judge Singh.

“It is clear it was for your own sexual deviant gratification, causing immeasurable disruption in this girl’s education and life in general.”

He made Briggs subject to both a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and registration as a sex offender, both for ten years.

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