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27 March 2015, 14:15
A man from Stockton who thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl but was being tricked by a group of internet paedophile hunters has been jailed for a year.
John Rudd, 57, from Appleton Road, Stockton, contacted a fake profile set up by the group Dark Justice and arranged a meeting even after being told the ``girl'' was under-age.
When Rudd travelled to Newcastle for the illegal rendezvous, he was shocked to find two men in their 20s armed with a video camera waiting for him on the Millennium Bridge.
Rudd was arrested minutes later, and Dark Justice made statements to the police.
The sex offender was charged with attempting to meet a child after secular grooming.
He admitted the offence and was sentenced at Newcastle Crown Court, just yards from where Dark Justice's sting operation took place in November.
Judge Penny Moreland jailed him for a year and placed him on the Sex Offenders' Register for 10 years.
The vigilantes, who describe themselves as concerned citizens, set up a profile on the site Badoo in the name Donna.
When Rudd was caught, Dark Justice filmed him saying: ``I just feel stupid.''
Dark Justice revealed outside the court that members wear bullet-proof vests for their meetings. They hope publicity might make paedophiles reconsider trying to meet children, and raise awareness among parents.
Gavin Doig, prosecuting, said Rudd contacted Donna on the over-18s site and continued to do so after being told she was only 14.
There were 130 pages of messages between Rudd and Donna in the three weeks it took from first contact to meeting up, during which he made several sexual references, the court heard.
Rudd talked about sharing a bath, asked intimate questions and suggested she did not wear underwear when they met.
Judge Moreland said Rudd's messaging was ``a textbook example of sexual grooming''.
She told him:
``You were attentive, flattering, kind and thoughtful and, meanwhile, you turned the conversation, when you could, to sexual matters."
``I accept no child was actually harmed by what you did, but your behaviour was persistent and you believed yourself to be engaging in contact with a girl of 14.''
Paul Caulfield, defending, said Rudd was of previous good character but his life was now in tatters.
``He bitterly regrets becoming involved in the way in which he did.''
Rudd had recently been bereaved, was drinking heavily, and was ``flattered'' by the content of the messages.
Mr Caulfield said his client had suffered greatly as a consequence of the national publicity the case had gathered, and he has lost his job and had to move house.
The barrister added:
``He has no intention of using the internet having seen how this particular activity of entrapment has led him into wrong-doing.''
Dark Justice were in court to watch the proceedings, and one of the activists, calling himself Scott, said outside:
``I didn't think he would go to prison - it just shows what we do works."
``I am upset his life has been destroyed but he would have destroyed a little girl's life.
``This is the best place for him now, and being on the sex offenders register for 10 years means he won't get the chance to do it again.''