Allegedly had online chats with people posing as children

A Coleraine man, who allegedly had sexually explicit online chats with so-called paedophile-hunting volunteers posing as 13-year-old girls, has been further remanded in custody.

Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 12:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th September 2018, 12:13 pm

Harold Burke (58), whose address was given as Quilly Road, appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday via video link from Maghaberry Prison where he has been on remand. A prosecutor told Monday’s court a full file in the case is not due until October.

A defence solicitor said bail had previously been refused at Belfast High Court.

Burke is charged with two counts of attempted sexual communication with a child and two of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

He is also accused of possessing 370 rounds of .22 ammunition in suspicious circumstances.

The defendant had his case adjourned until October 8.

In August, the High Court was told Burke allegedly exchanged more than 100 messages and offered to meet one of the “decoys”.

Burke was arrested in July after police were contacted by a group called Decoy Central.

Crown lawyer Catherine Chasemore told the High Court in August that information was supplied about his alleged online conversations with two people portraying themselves as schoolgirls.

According to the prosecution, however, they were really adult volunteers acting as decoys.

During the alleged exchanges they clearly purported to be aged 13, making references to their parents and school libraries.

The conversations were explicit and included various graphic requests from Burke, Mrs Chasemore claimed.

She said the accused offered to meet one of the decoys, although no confirmed arrangements were made.

Copies of the alleged chat logs were given to the PSNI, with 119 messages ‘screen saved’.

When police arrested the accused and carried out searches at his home, ammunition was discovered in a utility room safe, the court was told.

Opposing bail, Mrs Chasemore claimed Burke showed no remorse for his alleged actions during interviews.

She also submitted to last month’s court that a strong threat against him existed within the Coleraine and Limavady areas.

“Police are very concerned about public order,” she added.

But focusing instead on the risk of re-offending, Mr Justice Colton responded: “I don’t believe the court should be dictated to by the mob.”

Defence counsel stressed at the High Court last month that Burke must still be presumed innocent.

He described his client as a man struggling with loneliness following the death of his mother.

“It’s a fairly solitary life, he now lives in his parents’ old house on his own,” the barrister said.

He contended that the ammunitions charge was “an oddity”, disclosing that Burke’s father had at one stage been involved in the munitions trade.

The accused knew nothing about the bullets found in a rusted shut safe which was only opened by trained police, the court heard.

Denying bail in August, Mr Justice Colton had expressed concern about a potential escalation in alleged offending.

The judge said at the time: “The applicant is clearly an unsuitable candidate for bail.”