This is the moment paedophile hunters confronted a man outside a shopping centre after he travelled 250 miles to meet a girl he believed to be 14-years-old to have sex.
Lawrence Simms made the journey from his home in Devon to Hanley, Staffordshire, after exchanging online messages that became increasingly sexual with what he believed to be a child.
But the 54-year-old was instead confronted by paedophile hunters outside a shopping centre.
Simms, seen wearing a brown baseball cap in the footage, soon learned that he had been talking to a female decoy.
He was then arrested by police and had his mobile phone seized, which revealed he had a two-night reservation at a hotel in the area.
Simms started chatting with the ‘girl’ in February last year before travelling to the Potteries on March 21, 2020, where he believed she would stay with him in a hotel room.
The moment Lawrence Simms, 54, was stung by Phoenix Guardians , a vigilante group corresponding with him under the guise of 14-year-old-girl
Police arrested Simms, from Devon, after he travelled 250 miles to meet a ‘teenager’ for sex
The sting operation was was planned and executed by Phoenix Guardians, a vigilante group, who arranged for a woman to pose as a teenage girl in the online chats.
Prosecutor Hunter Gray said: ‘It started with Facebook messenger conversations by the defendant. The woman was presenting as a 14-year-old girl.
‘The defendant travelled from Plymouth hoping to meet the girl in Stoke.
‘He admitted to having had contact with her and that he had planned to meet.
‘He said it was not of a sexual nature and he planned to stay at the hotel alone.’
Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court heard Simms plead guilty to one charge of attempting to engage a child in sexual communication, and a second offence of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.
Paul Cliff, mitigating, said: ‘This confrontation by the vigilante group was live-streamed.
‘There have been problems – he has been employed by the same company for the past two decades and at work he is now largely ignored or subject to abuse from people he works with which has been difficult for someone in his position.
The messages Simms (pictured outside court) sent to the girl were increasing sexual before he arranged to meet the teen in Hanley, Staffordshire
‘He was already an isolated individual who lives alone in a one-bedroom flat.
‘He has not had a significant relationship for some time.
‘It has caused problems with his family. I would not go so far as to say they have rejected him, but it’s not difficult to imagine the hurt, upset and resentment that they will feel.
‘It’s been a difficult 14 or 15 months for him.’
Simms was sentenced to nine months in prison suspended for two years for the attempting to engage a child in sexual conversation offence.
And he was also handed an 18 month jail term, suspended for two years, for attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming. The sentences will run concurrently.
Judge Sally Hancock told him: ‘The court can’t explain why you behaved the way you did.
‘Communication with people at different ends of the country can be a world-widening and interesting experience. We can talk to people who we never would have met.
‘But people like you can strike up a conversation with someone you believed was a child.
‘These are worrying and troublesome conversations for an adult man to have with a teenage child.
‘It’s of a sexual nature and you travelled the not insignificant distance – over half the length of the UK mainland, and over the half the length of England.
‘You are in your early 50s. You are someone who leads a solitary life.
‘I am unsurprised that your family struggle with their relationship with you and I am unsurprised to hear that your life in the workplace has become troubled.
‘I accept that the last few months have been extremely difficult for you – you have lost your good name and standing in the community.
‘It will have repercussions for many years to come in your life.’
Simms was also made the subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) for 10 years, and was placed on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years.
He was ordered to pay £600 costs, reduced from £1,200 after he said he was unable to pay this amount.