A Co Down painter and decorator today narrowly avoided a prison sentence for inciting two teenage girls to engage in sexual activity with him.
Judge Neil Rafferty QC handed Darren McClelland a three-year probation order telling him that this was not a “easy touch or a soft option” as the wider public believed.
He said the order was needed to address McClelland’s “sexual immaturity” and to prevent any further re-offending in the future.
McClelland, 20, of Kennedy Drive, Hilltown, had pleaded guilty to two counts of inciting his victims to engage in sexual activity with him on dates between November 2017 and February 2019.
He further admitted two charges of sexual communication with his victims who were both aged 14 at the time.
Prosecution barrister David McClean told Belfast Crown Court that ‘Child B’ was contacted by McClelland via Snapchat and sent her sexually explicit pictures of himself.
She blocked him on social media but later unblocked him after she found out he was a friend of her cousin.
The judge heard that he subsequently sent her a further 15 sexually explicit pictures and asked her to reciprocate.
“He threatened to tell her cousin that she had done so anyway,” said Mr McClean.
The second victim, ‘Child C’, also received messages from McClelland.
“She was 14 and he was 18 at the time,” said the prosecutor. “He was aware of her age as she had told him.”
The defendant sent five explicit images of himself and “repeatedly asked her” to send images of herself to him.
Police were contacted and in April 2018 McClelland was arrested. He made a no comment at first interview but at a further interview in October that year he “admitted sending images to both girls and threatening one of them”.
A defence barrister said a medical report indicated McClelland was of “low intelligence” and he admitted to the Probation Service that he had learned about sex by “watching pornographic videos”.
Describing his client as a “young man with a clear record who was very immature”, the barrister said he would “benefit greatly from supervision so nothing like this ever happens again”.
Judge Rafferty agreed that a period of extended supervision with the Probation Service would better protect the public than sending McClelland to prison where he could come under the influence of others more sexually mature.
The judge also commended the two victims and their parents for bringing the offences swiftly to the attention of police.
McClelland was placed on the sex offenders’ register for five years and was made the subject of a ten year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.