A shop manager has avoided jail after sending “horrifying” messages to internet profiles he thought belonged to underage girls.
Hugh Stockdale, who works in Kodak Express on Park Street, was caught in an online sting by ‘paedophile hunter’ groups Soul Survivors and Welsh Warriors.
The 38-year-old, of New Walls in Totterdown, sent graphic images of himself to members of the groups who were posing as two girls, aged 13 and 14, on the internet.
He admits attempting to cause a child to watch a sex act and two counts of attempting sexual communication with a child, offences which took place between August and December last year.
Stockdale was sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, on May 31 at Bristol Crown Court.
How the sting unfolded
Prosecutor Ed Hetherington said Chantelle Dirden, a care assistant who in her spare time works with Soul Survivors, set up a decoy account on the Skout chatroom.
The account appeared to be that of ‘Summer’, a 13-year-old girl from Exeter.
Stockdale approached ‘Summer’ on October 17 last year, messaging her: “Be careful. There are bad men here.”
He asked what year she was in at school, to which she replied she was in Year Eight.
Mr Hetherington said: “The defendant established she slept in a bedroom on her own. He asked if she had a boyfriend.
“He suggested they move their conversation to WhatsApp, a messaging service which has end-to-end encryption.
“He began introducing sexualised topics to the conversation, asking if she wore a bra and what cup size she had.”
Stockdale told ‘Summer’ she looked more like she was 15 than 14.
He then sent a graphic image of himself in the bath and asked: “Do you fancy learning more about sex tonight?”
The defendant asked her to take a photo of herself. When ‘Summer’ said she would have to use her mum’s phone, he said not to do this.
‘Can you say I am your uncle?’
He messaged her on November 28: “I wish I could be your boyfriend. The age difference is big though. People would think I am a paedo.
“If we do hang around together can you say I am your uncle? You don’t have anything to fear. I am not a bad guy.”
On December 5, Stockdale asked to meet ‘Summer’ at Bristol Temple Meads station and they arranged a date to do so.
Two days later, he asked: “You haven’t told anyone your plan have you?”
After Stockdale cancelled the meeting, saying he had a Christmas party to attend, Soul Survivors went to his place of work on December 13.
Mr Hetherington said: “They walked into the workplace wearing cameras and confronted him. Mr Stockdale then arranged for his boss to attend.
“To the credit of his boss, he calmed matters down considerably and what had threatened to be quite an unpleasant confrontation calmed down.”
Police arrived and arrested Stockdale, who gave a no-comment interview. Soul Survivors posted footage of the confrontation on its Facebook page.
One of the people who viewed the video was Savannah Halliday, who works with Welsh Warriors.
“She had been posing as a 14-year-old on Skout called Ella May,” Mr Hetherington said.
Stockdale had approached ‘Ella May’ on August 25 last year, before sending graphic images of himself and a video of him performing a solo sex act.
He also told her he was “well-hung” and asked her for a picture of her breasts.
“He suggested meeting but it didn’t get any further than suggesting she could save up pocket money and get a train to Bristol,” the prosecutor said.
Ms Halliday ended contact with Stockdale on November 14 and only decided to take her evidence to police after seeing the Soul Survivors footage.
Stephen Dent, mitigating, said: “He has asked me to reiterate how remorseful he is.
“He finds what he did horrifying. He can’t believe what he typed. He said he wasn’t in his right mind.”
Judge Michael Longman broke in: “Not in his right mind for several months?”
Mr Dent added that the defendant was suffering from stress because “business was slow”.
“He had many disappointing experiences on adult dating websites,” the lawyer continued.
“He was frustrated and lonely. He was just relieved these younger girls would talk to him.”
Mr Dent said Stockdale was also upset at the time because his dad, grandmother and dog had all recently died.
He added: “Mr Stockdale says it was never his intention to meet the girls. He does have a goal to make the business a success and buy a property.”
Judge Longman placed the defendant, who previously worked in computer repairs in Kingswood, on the sex offender register for 10 years.
Handing down the sentence, the judge said: “I am quite satisfied that loneliness played a part but of course on its own that is entirely insufficient to explain your behaviour, let alone justify it.”
He added that he believes the defendant can be rehabilitated in the community.
Stockdale must complete 50 sessions of a rehab requirement and pay £670 in prosecution costs.
He is earning £1,000 per month, having worked part-time since the offending came to light, but Mr Dent said Stockdale expects to return to a full-time role soon.
When we asked Stockdale if he had anything to say after the sentencing, he replied: “No comment. It’s been dealt with.”
You can watch this in the video at the top of this page.
Kodak Express has been approached for comment on whether it will continue to employ Stockdale.