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Man (61) cleared of sending obscene messages to minors

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A 61-YEAR-OLD man has been acquitted in the Magistrate’s Court of charges of sending obscene messages to minors on an online dating site.

Magistrate's Court

Brian Walker, of St Helier, denied four offences under the telecommunications law related to sending indecent or obscene messages.

He was accused of sending messages to four ‘boys’, aged between 11 and 15, on the dating app Grindr using the name Andy. The ‘boys’ were in fact fake profiles created by paedophile-hunter Cheyenne O’Connor.

Mr Walker was found not guilty of the charges on Friday by Assistant Magistrate Peter Harris who issued a written judgment on the matter outlining his decision.

‘I carefully considered all of the direct and circumstantial evidence presented to the court,’ Mr Harris said.

‘In all the circumstances, I was not satisfied to the criminal standard that the prosecution had proved its case and therefore I found the defendant not guilty of these charges.’

The evidence included ‘screenshots of a large number of messages being exchanged on Grindr, a social networking app’, which were presented as signed admissions.

In one of the exchanges, with a fake account of an alleged 28-year-old male, a photo of Mr Walker and a phone number had been shared.

‘It was admitted that the “Andy” profile was the same throughout,’ Mr Harris said in the judgment, and that the messages were obscene.

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But he said that while circumstantial evidence could sometimes ‘be very strong’, the expert witness called by the prosecution – police mobile phone expert William Cloete – could not definitively say that the messages had been sent by the defendant.

‘Mr Cloete could not throw light on the central question, namely whether the defendant had sent any of the messages that were the subject of the four charges,’ Mr Harris wrote. ‘The link between those messages and the defendant hinged on the profile of “Andy”.

‘The only thing to link that profile to the defendant were the messages to the purported 28-year-old with his photograph and telephone number. A telephone number is, however, generally not private information and there was no evidence of any such photograph on the defendant’s telephone.’

Mr Cloete told the court during the trial that he had found evidence that the Grindr app had been on Mr Walker’s phone but had been deleted.

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‘His investigation revealed only a creation date and a modification date, the latter of which was admitted as 12 April 2018 (also the date of the Defendant’s arrest),’ Mr Harris said in the judgment.

‘Mr Cloete could not say that installing the app meant that the account was activated or whether some further action was needed. He presumed that you could download the app and not activate it.

‘He thought that any Grindr account could be accessed from any appropriate device provided a person had the login details. Accordingly I did not know exactly when the Grindr app had been on the Defendant’s telephone and I did not know whether it had ever been activated.’

Tania Targett

By Tania Targett
Journalist

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