Youth worker jailed for grooming under-age girl

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The Independent Online

A youth consultant who groomed a 13-year-old girl for sex online was jailed for 21 months today.

Simon Beard, 56, was caught red-handed after Five News reporters carried out an undercover online investigation into men who attempted to groom children for sex.

Beard was caught arranging to meet the girl for sex at Gunnersbury Tube station in west London on April 29, Southwark Crown Court in central London heard.

Sentencing him, judge Anthony Leonard QC said: "While I have reservations about the appropriateness of such sting operations, it has exposed you as someone looking for young girls for your own sexual gratification."

Beard was arrested after investigators monitored the activities of several people on teen chatrooms and posed as a 13-year-old girl called Amy.

The broadcaster then passed a dossier of evidence, including film footage, to the Metropolitan Police.

Beard, who called himself 'Funman UK' and 'Sim', spent a month grooming Amy online without realising he was speaking to undercover reporters, the investigation revealed.

The married father-of-two and grandfather exposed himself on webcam and tried to persuade her to perform a sex act before suggesting she meet him to have sex.

He also asked her if she was a virgin and requested she send photographs of herself.

Prosecutor Peter Zinner said: "The conversation was recorded by Sky News. It was of a highly sexual nature, it is clear that much of the sexual content was instigated by Mr Beard."

Beard also reportedly told her he could "get into trouble" meeting her and was breaking the law.

Beard persuaded the girl to take an afternoon off school and arranged to meet her at an address in west London.

He was confronted by reporters when he turned up for the meeting, but ran away when they gave chase. He was later arrested by police.

In the undercover film, Beard made a call to Amy, a 19-year-old woman posing as a 13-year-old.

"Having some fun is always exciting," he told her.

"Especially when it's a nice young girl like you. A sexy girl."

When she told him she was shy about meeting up, Beard replied: "Well just relax in my arms 'cause we'd be kissing, wouldn't we?

"I'll keep you safe, I'm not gonna hurt you."

Last month Beard admitted attempting to cause or incite the 13-year-old to engage in sexual activity on both April 8 and April 28, as well as attempting to cause the girl to watch a sexual act.

He also pleaded guilty to attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.

Beard, of Main Street, Little Harrowden, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, was employed by the National Youth Agency between 2002 and September last year.

Mr Zinner said in his role, Beard "specialised, it seems, in giving advice to young people about healthy sexual development and relationships".

Beard earlier denied a further charge of possessing 83 indecent images of children, ranging from levels one to four. The charge will be left to lie on file, the court earlier heard.

Sam Stein QC, defending Beard, told the court he was a church-going man who helped organise festivals and was part of a folk band playing the fiddle.

Mr Stein said: "He has quite simply destroyed his own life and work", adding Beard himself had revealed he was "deeply ashamed" of his behaviour.

Judge Leonard also made Beard subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.