A Dublin man has been jailed for trying to meet and have sex with a girl he believed to be 13 years old, who turned out to be a bot invented by a group looking to catch child groomers.
Shane Corrigan, 53, of Newton Court, Belcamp Lane, Coolock, pleaded guilty to using information technology to facilitate the sexual exploitation of a child over four days around Christmas 2018.
At a hearing in the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, Judge Martin Nolan sentenced Corrigan to three years in prison with the final 20 months suspended, adding that he did not think Corrigan was “a danger to society”.
An investigating garda told Eoin Lawlor BL, prosecuting, that Corrigan had been chatting to a fictional 13-year-old decoy in an account set up by a group with the goal of catching people grooming children.
The group, called the ‘Child Online Safety Team’ create fake profiles pretending to be underage children.
The court heard that “like fishing lures, if people come along and bite and begin to engage in conversation, that’s when the profile becomes active”.
Pictures used in the accounts are provided for by adults, who consent to their childhood photographs being used.
The group contacted gardaí with information that Corrigan had been talking to a decoy, 13-year-old ‘Melissa’, between 24 December and 28 December 2018.
In the messages, Corrigan asked ‘Melissa’ explicit questions and to engage in explicit acts. ‘Melissa’ informed him at several stages that she was 13.
He said he would meet her so they could have “sexy fun” and asked her: “If we found a safe place to meet, would you have sex with me?” before proposing that they meet at a hotel.
Corrigan asked ‘Melissa’ to bring her friends and six-year-old cousin with her to the hotel. When ‘Melissa’ asked if he wanted to have sex with the six-year-old, he said yes.
Gardaí were alerted and obtained a search warrant for Corrigan’s house on 29 December, 2018.
They secured electronic media belonging to Corrigan. Analysis showed no evidence of child pornography.
Corrigan was arrested on 2 September 2022. In interview he identified his profile as being in contact with ‘Melissa’ and agreed the conversation was inappropriate and sexual.
During the interview, Corrigan expressed regret and apologised. He told gardaí he suffered from an intellectual disability as he had been starved of oxygen at birth. He also said he was “something of a loner”.
James Dwyer SC, defending, said his client lost his job as a result of the investigation but has an “extraordinarily supportive family”.
Mr Dwyer said his client suffered from a mild intellectual disability and fell into the category of a “vulnerable adult”.
He said that culpability was “lower than it would be with a more devious, manipulative adult”.
“As somebody with his deficits, one wonders about his capacity to follow through with any of this,” said Mr Dwyer, and asked the court to be mindful of his client’s early guilty plea and absence of any previous convictions.
Judge Nolan said the mitigating factors included an early plea of guilty, and the fact that Corrigan made admissions, cooperated, had a good work history and had no record of conviction.
However, Judge Nolan said: “I do believe Mr Corrigan knows the difference between right and wrong and I do believe that he must have known what he was doing was wrong.”
Judge Nolan sentenced Corrigan to three years imprisonment, but suspended the final 20 months on strict conditions.