Online groomer from Exmouth sent on sex offenders' course

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Rhodes contacted the girl via social media - Credit: Eastern Daily Press

An online groomer who got a 14-year-old girl to send him naked images has been sent on a sex offenders’ course.

Neil Rhodes was reported to police by Facebook and officers found a hoard of indecent images which he had downloaded from the internet alongside those of the girl.

He used Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media to befriend the troubled girl when she was just 14 and living in a foster placement in Cornwall.

They spent four years communicating online without actually meeting and she told police he was constantly asking for selfies in which she was touching herself.

She only broke off the relationship after she found an Instagram account which revealed that instead of being young and single, he was twice her age, living with a partner and the father of young twins.

Office worker Rhodes, of Chamberlain Avenue, Exmouth, admitted sexual communication with a child and making, by downloading, indecent images and movies of children.

He was jailed for 12 months, suspended for two years and ordered to go on the 40-session Horizon sex offenders’ treatment programme and do 30 days of rehabilitation activities.

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The 34-year-old was also put on the sex offenders register and made subject of a sexual harm prevention order by Judge Timothy Rose at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: “What you have done is profoundly disturbing and serious. You asked for pictures just about every time you communicated with her. You were corrupting her at a time when you were twice her age.

“You have now begun to realise you have an unhealthy obsession with young girls.”

Greg Richardson, prosecuting, said Facebook alerted police to inappropriate images being sent in personal messages and his devices were seized in a raid on April 30, 2019.

A total of 153 images or movies were found including some of girls as young as four suffering serious abuse. Officers also found images of the girl dating back to 2016 and 2017 when she was 14 and 15.

There were also messages from her in May 2019 expressing her hurt and anger when she learned he had lied to her about being single.

She told police she was extremely vulnerable at the time and thought Rhodes was being nice to her and helping her through troubled times and she had not been forced to send the images and Facetime chats.

Warren Robinson, defending, said Rhodes had sought help from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation charity to change his thinking and behaviour.

He has been assessed as a good prospect for rehabilitation because he is remorseful and has not tried to minimise his behaviour. The consequences for his partner and twins would be catastrophic if he went straight to jail.