A 22-YEAR-OLD who groomed, abducted and had sex on a beach with a runaway 14-year-old girl has been jailed for six years.
Sean Clode continues to influence his victim, who played truant from school five months ago and travelled hundreds of miles from northern Scotland to meet the man who befriended her over the internet, Teesside Crown Court heard.
Judge Howard Crowson told unemployed Clode, from Hartlepool, that age of consent laws were needed to protect vulnerable teenagers from men like him.
The pair had met at a railway station in Hartlepool and camped overnight on nearby dunes in a tent she had bought on her way down. They had sex on at least two occasions during the night, despite him knowing she was underage.
The girl had pretended to her parents she was going to school before a sleep-over with a friend, but instead met Clode.
When it became apparent she had vanished, her father drove through the night, first to Edinburgh, then to the north-east of England, desperately searching for the teenager.
He asked postmen, knocked on doors and wandered the streets looking for her, having arrived at dawn.
It was at 2:30pm that day when he finally heard she was safe, by which time he had begun to wonder if he would see her alive again.
Footage from a police helicopter showed Clode getting out of the tent and putting on his trainers, while the girl, who cannot be named, pulled down her dress.
The next day, the girl told police in a recorded interview that she had sex several times that night with Clode in the tent.
The following month, she changed her story and said no sex had taken place, in a bid to protect the man with whom she was still infatuated. The judge concluded she was acting on his wishes by giving a false account.
The jury deliberated for just over an hour before convicting him of sexual grooming, child abduction and two counts of sexual activity with a child.
The abduction charge related to Clode removing the girl from the lawful authority of her parents.
He denied all offences, denying sex had taken place, and claiming the girl arrived in Hartlepool without his knowledge and that he was merely trying to keep her safe. The case has continued to drive a wedge between the girl and her family.
Speaking about a victim-impact statement made by the girl’s father, Anthony Dunne, prosecuting, said: “It talks very strongly about the stress that was caused to the family by the daughter’s disappearance, by the difficulty that continues in their relationship with their daughter given her apparent sense of loyalty towards the defendant and what appears to be his continuing influence and control over her.”
Rebecca Brown, defending, said her client did not set out to groom the girl when they chanced upon each other while playing Xbox games online.
Judge Crowson said the plan for the pair to meet up caused “unimaginable anxiety” for her parents, and described the father’s search for his daughter as “desperate”.
“That she was a willing participant in these activities is no mitigation,” the judge added. “Her life and outlook have been completely distorted by you.”
The judge said Clode could have cut the communication before things became serious, and decided the defendant continued it “for your own selfish motives”.
Sentencing him to six years, the judge said: “Your intention was clearly to coerce her into sexual activity.
“This case demonstrates why the age of consent law is necessary to protect 14-year-old girls. You are a selfish man interested only in your own sexual desires.”
Clode will sign the sex offenders’ register and may be barred from working with children.
After the case, the girl’s father said in a statement: “We would like to thank police for their prompt and extensive search which found our daughter, and for their work and effort made to bring her abductor to justice.”
Outside court, Detective Constable Chris Bryan said: “Parents should view this case as a warning to check who their children are speaking to, not only on social networking sites but also through live chat when playing on games consoles.
“Sexual predators will use any opportunity possible to groom victims.”