A north-east pervert who sent “utterly disgusting” messages to two vigilantes posing as 14-year-old girls online has avoided jail – because they weren’t real children.
Sick David Lawless sent the undercover adults, members of an online group of paedophile hunters, a string of vile messages until other vigilantes confronted him and called police.
And the 60-year-old has now been handed a community payback order over the episode, but Sheriff Graham Buchanan warned him if the 14-year-olds had been real children he would have been sent to prison.
Fiscal depute Felicity Merson told Aberdeen Sheriff Court Lawless made contact with what he believed to be 14-year-old girls on Facebook on March 14 and 15 last year, and sent them messages over a period running up until May 4 last year.
In one message he told one of the decoys he was “going to have a bath and wishes she was there to wash his back”.
Mrs Merson told the court Lawless also sent messages to the decoys saying he “liked her body” and that he’d “like to play with her and was not referring to playing board games”.
The fiscal depute said Lawless asked one of the “girls” if she had “ever got with an older man” and added age was “just a number”.
Lawless also called the decoys “darling” during their conversations.
Lawless, of Anderson Court, Fraserburgh, previously pled guilty to two charges of attempting to communicate indecently with what he believed was a child.
Defence agent Sam Milligan said a social work report provided details on his client’s personal, family and educational history.
He added his client suffered from learning difficulties and had not committed any offences for around four decades.
Sheriff Buchanan said: “These cases are incredibly difficult when it comes to sentencing.”
He described the conversation between Lawless and the decoys as “utterly disgusting” and added: “It’s undoubtedly true to say if you were standing before me on these charges had they involved such conversations with actual children aged 14 you would be receiving a sentence of imprisonment. There’s no doubt in my mind about that because conversations of this kind are likely to be extremely harmful to a child of 14 years of age.
“It’s clear to me that the level of harm actually caused by your conduct here was low because the conversations were not with actual children but with members of a vigilante group set up with the purpose of luring people like you into these thoroughly inappropriate conversations.
“I have to have regard to the fact that no child was actually harmed as a result of what you did. That tilts this case into a category where I’m able to say a custodial sentence is not inevitable.”
Sheriff Buchanan handed lawless a three-year supervision order, 160 hours of unpaid work and a requirement to participate in the Moving Forward, Making Changes programme.
He also made him subject to the notification requirements of the sexual offences act for three years.