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Man spent the night with girl of 12

PUBLISHED: 16:38 24 July 2001 | UPDATED: 10:23 03 March 2010

IN a scene reminiscent of a plot from soap blockbuster Coronation Street a 12-year-old girl spent the night in an Ipswich hotel with a 43-year-old man she met on a chat line, it was alleged.

IN a scene reminiscent of a plot from soap blockbuster Coronation Street a 12-year-old girl spent the night in an Ipswich hotel with a 43-year-old man she met on a chat line, it was alleged today.

The girl, who was in the care of Suffolk Social Services and was living in a home for troubled children, later travelled to London with the man and was dropped off in Kilburn, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Before the court is Michael Gardner, of Sydenham who has denied an offence of child abduction.

After his arrest Gardner, who has a 14-year-old daughter and has no previous convictions, told police that he spoke to a girl who said she was 19 and lived in Ipswich on a chat line. The scenario evokes comparison with Sarah-Louise Platt in Coronation Street in which the schoolgirl met up with a man after corresponding with him through e mail.

In court today it was said that Gardner spoke to the 12-year-old girl several times over a two-week period last summer and arranged to meet her in Ipswich.

He claimed that the girl, who gave him a false name, had given him her address in Ipswich and told him she was staying at a halfway house. He claimed she had not told him she was living in the children's home.

Gardner told police the girl asked him to take her for a drive in his BMW and although he initially said no he had eventually agreed.

When they returned to the home at about 10.45pm Gardner claimed the girl told him she wanted to stay with him and said she knew where there was a hotel.

Gardner had booked into the Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich town centre and the girl had spent the night with him.

Gardner told police that although they had slept in the same bed he had remained fully clothed and had not had sex with the girl.

Hugh Vass, prosecuting, said it was not suggested by the girl or the prosecution that Gardner had sex with the girl and Gardner was not accused of having unlawful sexual intercourse with her.

He claimed that while Gardner was talking to the girl outside the children's home when he first arrived in Ipswich, a member of staff had spoken to him and had made it clear that the girl was only 12.

Mr Vass said there was no dispute that Gardner took the girl with him. The issue for the jury to decide was whether or not he thought she was at least 16.

The trial continues.

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