We have included a short guide to how these cases work below. If you or a family member are worried about an investigation or prosecution for an inciting or grooming offence, contact us.
How are these cases investigated?
The introduction and popularity of the internet over the last twenty years has arguably done harm as well as good to the way that people communicate. While it is easier to communicate, the quality of the communication is often degraded, as anonymity and alter egos play a role in blurring reality. Spending time in chatrooms may or may not be innocent enough, but conversation and behaviour can sometimes evolve in a way that wasn't initially intended to situations in which criminal offences have taken place.
Some inciting or grooming investigations can begin as a result of involvement from an undercover police officer pretending to be a child in a chatroom or other social media platform. Such contact may progress to private sexual exchanges, or even a meeting, at the end of which an arrest will take place.
Other cases may arise as a result either of a complaint from parents or social workers to police, or as a result of a red flag from a compromised website bringing attention to an individual who is then investigated for all his or her dealings online and in real life.
The issue of entrapment in situations where an undercover officer has appeared to encourage the behaviour which is being prosecuted is often an issue of some frustration to the person. The legal position in England and Wales is that entrapment is generally no defence, and the court will generally only stop proceedings in situations where the police have done things far beyond what a genuine person encouraging the criminal behaviour might have done, or where there has been obvious bad faith beyond the remit of a normal investigation. This often makes it difficult to challenge a prosecution which has arisen as a result of an undercover sting operation.
Grooming where victim and defendant are both young
The possibility of more innocent relationships between children of a similar age being misinterpreted by investigators must also be considered. Young people who are operating in compromised environments may be victims of grooming and without realising it be facilitating the sexual grooming of other young people on behalf of others without being aware of what is really going on. These cases are incredibly sensitive, and are never as straightforward as they seem. The sometimes fine line between being a groomer and a victim is one which the prosecution and police will often try to draw in a judgmental way which can ignore the realities of what has been going on in that environment.
In cases where grooming inciting, or meeting (including arranging to meet offences) is alleged, certain types of evidence will be important.
Texts and emails
Texts between an alleged groomer or inciter and a complainant can of course be relevant. They may indicate meetings, inapproriate behaviour, and may point evidentially to offences. However, the written word can sometimes be interepreted, and the client's version of what a particular text or email actually means should be taken and considered by his or her defence team.
Chatroom, video and social media conversations
There is of course a number of types of information that can exist on chatroom and social media conversations. Sometimes these will be recorded on seized computers, sometimes not. They can range from innocent and not sexual engagement with young people online to evidence pointing to actual sexual activity. The usual rules for the investigation of computer evidence by the defence apply here too. That means not assuming that the client is responsible for the communication unless sole access to the computer has been admitted already, or unless the forensic evidence points to and identifies a single user.
Where gifts have been given to young people, especially to young people in local authority care, this can be something that police are increasingly trained to interpret as a sign of grooming. If this is the case, the defence team will need to ascertain whether a gifts were given, and whether they are significant. In grooming cases, gifts can include things as basic as cigarettes, alcohol or small amounts of money, and can be the first stage in building an inappropriate relationship of reliance with a young person.
Arranging offences - Fantasy and Real Intent
In arranging offences, a question that a sexual offences lawyer looking at evidence of apparent arrangements to meet should consider whether in fact the communication was more along the lines of fantasy with no real intent to meet, and in fact, whether it never would have happened
The Law on Grooming
Grooming itself is not an offence on its own. To be guilty, the defendant must be shown to have met or communicated with a child on at least two occasions, and then travelled with the intention of meeting them to commit a sexual offences, typically sexual assault or rape. The initial two or more contacts need not actually be sexual in nature, but the intention when travelling to meet must be for a sexual purpose. The meeting need not take place. Travelling to it is enough. The child need not exist as long as the defendant thinks he or she does exist. This allows for the possibility of a police sting where the defendant is arrested at a meeting with (or on the way to) an undercover officer.
The Law on Causing or Inciting a Child to Engage in Sexual Activity The law on causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity is split into two main offences. The first is an offence of inciting or encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity when the person doing it is over 18. For this offence to be made out, the prosecution must prove that the child was under 13, or that the child was under 16 and the adult did not reasonably believe that he or she was 16 or over. ‘Reasonably' means that a jury will have to make a decision about whether the mistake over the age was one that is plausible to them looking at it objectively. If the child is under 13, the adult's view of the age is irrelevant.
The second type of offence of causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity is where the child is under 13, irrespective of the age of the defendant. This applies to offences committed by young people under 18, including by children under 16 and even under 13.
The above information is only intended as a basic guide to some of the issues that arise in these cases. It cannot replace expert advice by an experienced sexual offences lawyer. If you or a family member are worried about an investigation or prosecution for an inciting or grooming offence, contact us.