Custody for man who had sex with runaway teen

A MAN has been sentenced to 12 months custody for abducting and having sex with a 14-year-old girl from Essex who he met on a social networking site.

A MAN has been sentenced to 12 months custody for abducting and having sex with a 14-year-old girl from Essex who he met on a social networking site.

Richard Lewis, 19, admitted two counts of abducting a child and five counts of sexual activity with a child after the pair ran away together sparking a nationwide search.

The schoolgirl from the Chelmsford area, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was said to have been besotted with Lewis after they met on the internet and chatted on the MSN messenger site before they ran away twice and had sex.

Lewis, from Llanbradach in Gwent, Wales, befriended the girl on the site in December last year when she was just 13 and kept in touch online before visiting her a number of times at her home.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard yesterday how the girl, who initially claimed to be 16, persuaded Lewis she had a bad relationship with her parents and threatened to commit suicide or harm herself if he did not run away with her.

Richard Dyble, prosecuting, said: “They were in regular contact which took place over the internet which led to the defendant travelling up for the first time on February 21, 2009.

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“He came up in his Astra van transporter and spent the night with her. Following that meeting he travelled up between seven and ten weekends.

“She spent the weekend in his company, having led her parents to believe she was with friends.”

Lewis met the girl's parents once and was told by the mother she was only 14.

On April 17 he drove up from Wales to meet her and two days later they disappeared together, leading to the national manhunt.

Detectives from Essex Police discovered she had been researching “tactics to avoid being traced” and looking at campsites in Scotland on the computer, before she disappeared.

The court heard how they travelled to South Wales, sleeping rough in the van and the pair had full sexual intercourse.

But they were found by an “eagle-eyed” member of the public who had seen their picture in the press and spotted Lewis's van at a National Trust property.

Lewis was arrested and questioned, before being released on bail under the condition that he would not contact the schoolgirl.

But the teens vanished for a second time on May 10 when the girl was last seen by her parents at 5.30pm.

Police cameras caught them at the Dartford Crossing in Kent in Lewis's black Volkswagen Transport van, which has a distinctive checkerboard design around its sides.

They were discovered 12 days later in Weston-Super-Mare.

Mr Dyble said: “They avoided using mobile phones to avoid detection but having used a mobile phone the signal was detected.

“Police found the van in a HomeBase carpark.

Clare Ashcroft, mitigating, said Lewis loved the girl and believed what she told him about her being “mistreated by her family”.

Describing him as “shy and reserved”, she said: “Mr Lewis is a young man, who, as far as he is concerned, genuinely fell in love with this young woman.

“This is not a case where he is a predatory male seeking out younger females. He simply fell in love with another teenager and wanted to believe in her.”

Sentencing Lewis, who was due to start a college course this autumn, Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC said: “You took her away in your van and on several occasions you had sexual intercourse with her, knowing each time you did so her true age, or at any rate that she was under 16.

“As far as she's concerned it's wrong to say she consented to this, she is unable in law to consent. The law is there to protect children from their own inexperience and unwisdom.

“It is however fair to say you didn't force yourself on her or use any deception to achieve your purposes.

“There was between you a real friendship. You weren't a predator cruising the internet chasing your victim and then proceeding with an affectionless sex crime.”

However, Judge Goldstaub said the offence was serious to warrant a custodial sentence.

Lewis, who wore a white shirt, blue tie and glasses, listened intently as he was sentenced to 12 months in a young offenders' institute.

He was automatically barred from working with children, and was put on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.

Lewis, who told psychiatrists he wanted to spend his future with the girl, was also banned from having any contact with his victim until her 16th birthday.

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