A MAN with a relatively low IQ failed to appreciate the seriousness of kissing an underage girl and sending her suggestive messages, a court was told.

Questioned by police, after the girl’s mother raised concerns at his actions, having seen her daughter’s phone, Robert Joseph Lee claimed the kissing, even on the lips, was, “not sexual”.

Durham Crown Court heard he admitted the follow-up messages, among which he told her he was looking forward to “kisses and cuddles” and he wished she could fill the empty space in his bed, may have seemed “inappropriate”, but again stated that there was no sexual intent.

Lee told police it was, “a silly little thing” between him and the girl but claimed he would not have taken it any further, knowing her age.

The 42-year-old defendant denied two counts of sexual assault and one of engaging in sexual communication with a child, but on the day his trial began changed pleas to guilty, at the court last October.

Richard Herrmann, prosecuting, said by then the girl had given a pre-recorded interview, and her mother was at court expecting to have to give evidence

In an impact statement read to the court, the girl’s mother stated she felt, “disappointment, anger and sickness”, at his exploitative activity, which she said had left her daughter, “anxious and scared”.

She also stated that she was angry it went all the way to trial before Lee made his admissions, “causing a great deal of distress”.

Following Lee’s late admissions, at trial, sentence was adjourned by Judge James Adkin for preparation of psychiatric and Probation Service reports on the defendant.

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Chris Knox, in mitigation, told the sentencing hearing what was clear from the reports was that the defendant, “was functioning at a very low level.”

“There was an apparent lack of appreciation how serious this was, and an apparent lack of him taking it seriously.

“We weren’t getting an entirely sensible response.”

Mr Knox said, “the penny only really dropped” with his client when the case came to trial.

He added that the defendant, who has no previous convictions, had a good work record and, “presents as affable.”

Mr Knox urged Judge Adkin to pass a suspended sentence, adding: “He’s classically someone the Probation Service ought to work with.”

But Judge Adkin said: “It’s a dreadful case.”

Mr Knox agreed, but said: “It’s not clear what the defendant’s intention was.”

Judge Adkin replied: “That’s only because the mother found the text messages.”

Imposing a 19-month prison sentence, he told Lee, of Thorntree Court, Forest Hall, Newcastle, the “The clear inference was that you groomed her with a view to a sexual relationship.”

He added: “I consider this to be sinister and very worrying offending.”

Lee was also made subject of a Sexual Harm prevention Order, registration as a sex offender and a restraining order, relating to the girl, all for ten years.

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