A judge has ruled that a 51-year-old man should have done more to verify the age of a sexual contact he met through the R18 homosexual dating site Grindr – the boy was aged 15.
Judge Kevin Phillips was also critical of the police investigation into the case which led to a sexual grooming prosecution.
He said the police evidence left him in doubt whether the boy told the man that he was aged 15. The laptop computer the boy used for the contact was not seized or examined and the Crown evidence consisted of what people recalled seeing on-screen.
When he delivered his reserved decision today – convicting the man after a hearing in March – Judge Phillips said: “I don’t think the difficulties the court faced would be there if this had been properly investigated.”
But he ruled that the man had not carried out enough checks on the boy’s age when he met him at a north Christchurch shop carpark in June 2017. The man admitted that he travelled to meet the boy, intending to have a sexual involvement with him.
At the two-day hearing in March, he had denied the charge of meeting the boy after contacting him online, with defence counsel Phil Shamy arguing that he had taken reasonable steps to verify the age. The man has continued interim name suppression.
Mr Shamy said the man relied on the content of the online communications, the fact that the meeting took place on the Grindr site which has an R18 restriction, and that there had been a reference to a learner’s driving licence which can only be obtained after turning16.
Crown prosecutor Pip Norman had argued that the man ought to have simply asked the boy directly what his age was.
Judge Phillips ruled out the Grindr age verification, saying that no independent age verification was required, other than the user ticking a box. The man had relied on a photograph of the teenager on a profile on Grindr.
The man gave evidence that he had assumed from what he saw that the boy was aged 18 or 19, but he did not ask his age and the judge said that he did not take sufficient reasonable steps to verify he was over 16.
The judge said: “I am of the view after considering all the relevant evidence, that a direct inquiry as to age was required. The defendant did not make such a direct inquiry.”
He said he had no acceptable evidence that the boy stated had stated his age in the online conversation, which also took place on Facebook Messenger.
The boy’s mother gave evidence of seeing a reference to being aged 15 left on the laptop screen after the boy had gone to the meeting with the man. However, the laptop was not taken as evidence and the mother and two police officers made notes afterwards of what they could recall seeing on screen.
Mr Shamy argued at the trial that there had been no in-depth examination of the computer by it being seized and analysed, and the boy had not been questioned about this. He said the evidence was not available to the court “because of poor police investigation techniques”.
Judge Phillips said: “Overall, I am left in doubt as to whether the communications did include a discussion on [the boy’s] age at 15. I put the evidence on this issue to one side.”
He convicted the man and remanded him on bail to a June date when a sentencing date will be set. The judge may appear by video-link because he is not from Christchurch and only sits irregularly in the city.
He asked for a pre-sentence report which will consider the man’s suitability for home detention, but because of the boy’s lack of co-operation with the prosecution, he did not order an emotional harm reparations report or a victim impact statement.