Harrogate man snared by 'Paedophile hunters' after lewd chats with fake 12-year-old girl escapes jail

A 57-year-old father-of-three who tried to sexually groom a 12-year-old ‘girl’ on Whatsapp has been spared jail.

Friday, 13th November 2020, 3:11 pm
Updated Friday, 13th November 2020, 3:12 pm

Former refuse collector Gary Milner, from Harrogate, sent the ‘girl’ pornographic sketches and urged her to send him a lewd picture of herself.

But in fact, he had been set a trap by a “paedophile hunter group” called Dark Light, one of whose members set up an online decoy profile as a pre-teen girl on the dating app Mingle, York Crown Court heard.

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The man was arrested after 'Paedophile hunters' tricked him into lewd online chats with a fake 12-year-old girl.

Prosecutor Chris Dunn said the vigilante group turned up at Milner’s home in the Harrogate area following the entrapment and uploaded the video on Facebook. Milner was immediately removed from his job after his employers at a recycling waste service was informed of the footage.

“(The vigilante group) contacted police, informing them that representatives (from Dark Light) had attended the home of the defendant following him communicating online with their decoy profile set up to mimic a (named) 12-year-old female,” added Mr Dunn.

The decoy profile had lain dormant until Milner contacted the ‘girl’ on the dating website, which was for adults.

“For just over a fortnight (in August 2018) the defendant corresponded with this false profile of a child thinking it was a 12-year-old girl,” said Mr Dunn.

“The initial chat took place via Mingle (but) shortly after that, the conversation moved to the personal messaging app, Whatsapp.”

Milner, whose username was ‘Gazza1Gazza’, became “more intimate” in his conversations with the ‘girl’ after only a few days, manoeuvring the chats towards “messages of a sexual nature”.

He talked to the ‘girl’ about “how to have sex”, asked if he could perform a sexual act on her and sent her pictures and sketches from an adult “sexual manual”.

“On a number of occasions throughout this Whatsapp correspondence, (the ‘girl’) told him she was 12,” added Mr Dunn.

“Thereafter, he sent her a picture of his car, asking her if she’d like to go in it for a drive.”

Milner - formerly of Harrogate but now of Boroughbridge - asked the ‘girl’ to send him a lewd shot of herself and sent her a picture of a woman in a state of undress to give the ‘youngster’ a better idea of the kind of image he was expecting, said Mr Dunn.

After being arrested at his home, Milner told police he had talked the ‘girl’ about sex but claimed it was “more educational”.

He claimed he didn’t get any sexual gratification out of the debauched chats and that he didn’t intend to meet her, but these claims were rubbished by both the prosecution and the sentencing judge.

Milner - who lived alone following the collapse of his marriage about 11 years ago - claimed he was looking for a long-term adult relationship on the dating site and that he “happened” to talk to a ‘child’ “for friendship”.

However, he ultimately admitted attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child and attempting to cause a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.

The court heard that although Milner had an extensive criminal history, mostly for “dishonesty” offences, there was nothing on his record for sexual matters.

Susannah Proctor, for Milner, said her client was “deeply ashamed” about his behaviour but that he had not gone onto the dating site looking for children.

She said he had lost his job as soon as his employers became aware of the Facebook video, bringing an end to a 30-year career as a binman and causing him severe financial difficulties.

Since his arrest, Milner had lost all contact with his family. He had moved from Harrogate to Boroughbridge a few years ago following the death of his father.

Judge Simon Hickey said it was “clear” that Milner thought he was chatting to a real 12-year-old girl and that he had been sexually grooming her.

However, he said that Milner had already been punished of sorts following the “opprobrium” he had received following the Facebook video and the loss of a job he had held since 1989.

Milner was given an 18-month suspended prison sentence and placed on the sex-offenders’ register for 10 years.

He was also made subject to a 10-year sexual-harm prevention order and ordered to complete a 30-day rehabilitation programme and sexual-offending prevention course.