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Mark Todd


Child Online Safety Team (COST)

Mark Todd, 27, thought he was talking to an 11-year-old girl when he was really chatting to an adult member of a group which aims to identify and report child groomers.

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A "troubled" sex offender who posed as a teenage ex-professional footballer was caught trying to groom an underage girl by online paedophile hunters.

Mark Todd, 27, a man with learning difficulties, thought he was making sexual suggestions to an 11-year-old girl on the internet.

In fact he was talking to an adult working for the Child Online Safety Team (COST), a group aiming to identify and report child groomers.

Todd contacted the fictional 11-year-old on January 28 last year and chatted to her over three days.

He used an alias and claimed to be a former professional footballer with an interest in Manchester United, Teesside Crown Court heard.

The girl immediately gave her age, and Todd said he was 16, too old to be her boyfriend.

Prosecutor Harry Hadfield said: "The conversation between them online began with flattery from the defendant.

"But at the defendant's instigation, it quickly became sexualised.

"It's clear that no actual child was harmed."

Todd sent pictures of a male torso and genitalia to the person he believed to be 11, and asked her to send pictures of herself.

He encouraged her to touch her own body and said he wanted to be in bed with her.

After his arrest internet search terms like "young sex" were found on his phone.

Then on May 27 this year, Todd gave a phone to a detective monitoring him in the sex offender management unit.

Todd confessed: "I've been getting pictures sent to me. I've deleted them all."

Two indecent images of children were found on the device.

'An element of grooming'
Todd, of Pilkington Street, North Ormesby, Middlesbrough, admitted making those images, along with attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity and attempted sexual communication with a child.

He had no previous convictions but had a caution for sexual assault in 2010, when he was a youth.