A 27-year-old man will spend six months behind bars after explicitly messaging and trying to meet a ‘teenage boy’ - who was really a fake profile created by a vigilante mum-of-two.
Joao Manuel Mendonca Gomes was trapped by Cheyenne O'Connor, a member of the public who posed as 14-year-old ‘John’ on Grindr - a dating app sometimes used by gay men.
He appeared in the Magistrate’s Court yesterday, where he also learned that he would be put on the Sex Offenders’ Register for five years.
Outlining the facts of the case, legal adviser Susie Sharpe said that Ms O'Connor set up an account on the app on 26 November 2017. Mr Gomes made contact with Ms O’Connor’s fake profile and after a while they exchanged numbers. The conversation then moved to WhatsApp, a messaging app.
The Court heard that 'John' repeatedly told Gomes he was 14, having had his birthday the previous month. Gomes kept messaging him and asked for photographs of him. When John asked him if he minded that he was so young, Gomes said ‘no’. He asked the boy if they could meet to "talk and kiss" and used explicit language in his messages. He also told the boy could he stay at his house.
Pictured: Grindr, the dating app which the pair first used to communicate. (PA)
On 29 November, Gomes invited the boy to join him and his friends at his house where they were having drinks and sent the location to his address. The boy made excuses but Gomes kept asking to meet and to send pictures through the night and called him a couple of times, until 02:00.
Gomes apologised for the messages the following day and asked the boy if he was free that same evening. They decided to meet at Bean Around the World at 23:00, but Gomes tried to persuade the boy to meet at his friend’s house. He said they could go to his room at which point 'John' reaffirmed his age.
Ms O'Connor went to the meeting point at the time agreed and took a photo of Gomes there. She then contacted the police who later arrested him and interviewed him. Gomes confirmed he had made sexual suggestions and admitted he knew it was wrong.
Ms Sharpe told Court that Gomes was "clearly indicating he wanted to engage in with the 14-year-old boy and repeated it a number of times.”
“This is an aggravating factor that, despite confirmation from the boy of his age, it didn’t dissuade the defendant from pursuing to have contact with the boy,” she explained.
Defending Gomes, Advocate Ian McDonald urged the Court to consider a non-custodial sentence. He said there had been no victim in the case and that Gomes had simply been "trapped by a vigilante."
Pictured: Jersey's Magistrate's Court, where the case was heard.
He said: "There is no indication he had sexual interest in underage boys or evidence that he sought contact with any underage boy. Mr Gomes is a homosexual male who sought sexual contact with adult men… He suspected it was an adult who was pretending to be a 14-year-old boy. It turns out he was right, but he never suspected it was a vigilante.
"If he had met someone who was clearly underage he wouldn’t have had any sexual interest. He has no particular interest in people who look very young."
Advocate McDonald added that when Gomes saw the picture sent by Ms O'Connor he thought the boy looked like a young adult and it "increased his curiosity." He said that the sexual language Gomes used was "not particularly shocking for a 14 year-old-boy" and that the events took place in a virtual world.
"He was largely driven by curiosity and confusion over who he was corresponding with," the advocate explained. He described Gomes as a hardworking man with strong work ethics and "healthy sexual interests and attitudes." He also told Court that Gomes cares for his mother.
Returning her sentence, Magistrate Bridget Shaw noted that Gomes "wasn’t 100% sure the person he was going to meet was a 14-year-old" and that there was "some doubt in his mind that it might be a joke."
She noted, however, that this was a very serious matter and that, despite "significant personal mitigation", a community service sentence wouldn't be appropriate.
Speaking after the verdict, Ms O'Connor told Express that she was glad Gomes got a prison sentence but that six months wasn't enough.
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