An Olympic torch-bearer and charity stalwart has been spared jail after he was exposed as a child predator by a vigilante group who posed as a 14-year-old girl on an internet chat site.
Paul Drake, 53, turned up at Scarborough Railway Station with a bunch of flowers, a pizza and a Viagra tablet, only to be met by three members of an “internet predator-hunters’ group” who “harangued” Drake while filming the scenes and streaming the footage live on Facebook.
By pure chance, Drake’s work colleagues from a local bus company turned up at the station and witnessed the unedifying scenes, York Crown Court heard.
Drake, of Milton Avenue, Scarborough, was arrested and charged with attempted sexual communication with a child under 16, attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming. He admitted the offences and appeared for sentence on Friday June 8.
The court heard that Drake - who was chosen to carry the Olympic torch through Scarborough in the run-up to the London Olympics in 2012 because of his charity work - had lost his job, his marriage and potentially his home following his arrest just before midday on March 24.
Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, said that Drake, who had led a previously blameless life, had been on an adult chat site when he spotted the profile of a “young woman named Claire”.
“At that stage, the profile said ‘Claire’ was 18 and the photo accompanying it was of a young woman consistent with being at least 18, so this was not a case in which the initial contact was by way of a person targeting a known child,” added Mr Sharp.
“The defendant sent a message to the supposed ‘Claire’ and she responded. It was at that stage that ‘she’ said she was 14 and was living with her mum in Bournemouth.”
Within days, Drake “turned the conversation towards sexual matters” despite believing the ‘girl’ to be 14.
“He asked if he could text her about ‘rude things’ and within a day or so the text conversation progressed to him asking ‘her’ to visit him at his home address in Scarborough,” added the barrister.
“He explored with ‘her’ the fact that she was a virgin and wholly sexually inexperienced.”
Drake arranged a “rendezvous” at Scarborough Railway Station after the ‘girl’ said she was staying with her grandmother in Harrogate.
Drake turned up at the “appointed time” with a bunch of daffodils, supposed to be the ‘girl’s’ favourite flowers, and a pizza, which ‘she’ said was her favourite food. He was also carrying a “blue tablet”, thought to be Viagra.
The vigilante group pounced and “established (Drake’s) identity, which wasn’t difficult because he had been using his own name and his own photos on the messaging service”, said Mr Sharp.
They called police and live-streamed the scenes on Facebook. Even more embarrassingly for Drake, his work colleagues happened to turn up on a bus as the “predator hunters” exposed him in the most public way imaginable. Police arrived and Drake was duly arrested.
The video was later uploaded onto Youtube and the footage was seen by “many, many thousands” of people. Drake was sacked on the spot by his employers.
His lawyer David Camidge said that since his arrest, the charity fundraiser had endured “one of the most spectacular falls from grace that it’s possible to imagine”.
“In 2012, as a result of charity work he had done in Scarborough, he was an Olympic torch-bearer and… he’s well-known in the area,” added Mr Camidge.
He said Drake had mental-health problems stemming from a “difficult” childhood and had sought counselling. He was now a “recluse”.
Judge Andrew Stubbs QC told Drake: “Your shame and disgrace are now complete.”
He said were it not for the fact that the ‘girl’ didn’t exist, Drake would have received a prison sentence “measured in years” because his intention was to take the ‘girl’ back to his home and have sex with her.
“In fact, you walked into a storm and were publicly humiliated by those who would set you up,” added Mr Stubbs.
However, he said he could spare Drake prison because he had no previous convictions, there was never any risk of harm to the fictitious child and the offences were “out of character”.
Drake was given a four-month suspended prison term and placed on the sex-offenders’ register for 10 years. He must also complete a sexual-offenders’ programme and was made subject to a sexual-harm prevention order which will restrict his internet use and contact with females under 18.