Northern Ireland news

Man (58) had 'explicit online chats with people posing as 13-year-old girls'

 A man accused of having explicit online conversations with people posing as 13-year-old girls had been refused High Court bail

A CO Derry man allegedly had sexually explicit online chats with so-called paedophile-hunting volunteers posing as 13-year-old girls, the High Court heard today.

Prosecutors claimed Harold Burke exchanged more than 100 messages and offered to meet one of the "decoys".

The 58-year-old, of Quilly Road in Coleraine, was refused bail on charges of attempted sexual communication with a child and inciting a person believed to be under 16 to engage in sexual activity.

He is also accused of possessing 370 rounds of ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

Burke was arrested after police were contacted last month by a group called Decoy Central.

Crown lawyer Catherine Chasemore told the court information was supplied about his alleged online conversations with two people portraying themselves as schoolgirls.

According to the prosecution, however, they were really adult volunteers acting as decoys.

During the alleged exchanges they clearly purported to be aged 13, making references to their parents and school libraries.

The conversations were explicit and included various graphic requests from Burke, Mrs Chasemore claimed.

She said the accused offered to meet one of the decoys, although no confirmed arrangements were made.

Copies of the alleged chat logs were given to the PSNI, with 119 messages screen saved.

When police arrested the accused and carried out searches at his home ammunition was discovered in a utility room safe, the court was told.

Opposing bail, Mrs Chasemore claimed Burke showed no remorse for his alleged actions during interviews.

She also submitted that a strong threat against him exists within the Coleraine and Limavady areas.

"Police are very concerned about public order," she added.

But focusing instead on the risk of re-offending, Mr Justice Colton responded: "I don't believe the court should be dictated to by the mob."

Defence counsel stressed Burke must still be presumed innocent.

He described his client as a man struggling with loneliness following the death of his mother.

"It's a fairly solitary life, he now lives in his parents' old house on his own," the barrister said.

He contended that the munitions charge was "an oddity", disclosing that Burke's father had at one stage been involved in the munitions trade.

The accused knew nothing about the bullets found in a rusted-shut safe which was only opened by trained police, the court heard.

Denying bail, Mr Justice Colton expressed concern about a potential escalation in alleged offending.

He confirmed: "The applicant is clearly an unsuitable candidate for bail."

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