A convicted paedophile found guilty of attempting to groom a 12-year-old girl has avoided prison due to a delay in his case caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
Paul Appleton, 47, had been told to expect a custodial sentence by a judge after he was found guilty of attempting to incite a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.
Warwick Crown Court heard how Appleton, of Rugby, Warwickshire, sent explicit images of himself and asked the girl to "undress and play with herself” after chatting to her online – unaware his target was actually an undercover police officer.
Instead, Appleton was handed a two year suspended sentence and ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work and take part in a rehabilitation activity.
He will have to register as a sex offender for 10 years, was also made subject to a curfew between 8am and 8pm for a month and ordered to pay £800 costs.
During sentencing, Judge Anthony Potter said: "This was a pretty sustained attempt to engage in sexual activity with someone you believed to be a 12-year-old.
“This was in no sense a couple of isolated texts. There was a persistence to your communication. I told you it was almost inevitable that a custodial sentence would be imposed.
"But the circumstances that have arisen since March 12, and the delay caused, leads me to conclude that in this particular instance I can draw back from immediate imprisonment.”
Yahoo News UK has contacted Warwick Crown Court, who confirmed the delay had been caused by the COVID-19 lockdown.
The court heard Appleton had accessed an 18+ sex chat site, while his wife was on holiday on 3 October 2019.
Using the name PaulUK47, Appleton began a conversation with someone called Maya18.
But upon being tracked down and arrested, he said he believed he was communicating with an adult woman, and references to her being 12 were just part of a role-playing fantasy initiated by her.
A jury rejected his "ludicrous defence" and convicted him following a trial in early March.
The news comes as official estimates released Friday show courts face a backlog of more than half a million criminal cases as a result of the pandemic.
The number of cases waiting to be heard by magistrates shot up 22% between the week ending March 8 and May 17 to around 484,000, according to provisional data published by the Ministry of Justice.
During this period, outstanding crown court cases rose by 4% to about 41,000.
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