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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 June, 2003, 04:38 GMT 05:38 UK
Chat room paedophile jailed
Michael Wheeler
Michael Wheeler met the girls through internet chat rooms
Prosecutors in the case of a paedophile who used the internet to groom under-age girls for sex are considering an appeal to try and increase his three-year jail sentence.

Michael Wheeler, 36, from Cambridge, pleaded guilty to 11 sex offences against young girls.

Detectives believe Wheeler deliberately exploited the current law on sentencing by waiting until the girls were 13 before having sex with them so he could avoid being jailed for life if caught.

But a Crown Prosecution Service spokesman has told the BBC they will be seeking advice from counsel before deciding whether to appeal because the sentence was too lenient.

Wheeler was told by Judge Philip Curl, passing sentence at Norwich Crown Court, he would be freed on licence after serving half his sentence providing he behaved well.

Detectives said he had been in custody since his arrest in October 2002 so would probably be released early next summer.

He was prepared to play the long game, gain her trust and then abuse her
John Farmer
Prosecution

Wheeler, who will remain on the Sex Offenders' Register for life, abused two 13-year-old friends after making contact with them through an internet chat room.

The electronics engineer had contacted the first girl through the internet when she was 11, and then "groomed her" for two years, buying her presents and taking her to the cinema.

'Dark cloud'

John Farmer, prosecuting, told the court: "This case concerns a mature man who is a dangerous paedophile who initially made contact with a vulnerable girl through the internet chat rooms.

"He was prepared to play the long game, gain her trust and then abuse her.

"He gave the girl gifts and more cruelly, he spotted that she presented a loveless character and he exploited that to make her emotionally dependent upon him.

You can go to jail for a much longer time if you burgle a house or take cars or if you are involved in drugs
Michele Elliot, Kidscape

"He manipulated her to such a degree of dependence that she was prepared to lie to her parents."

The mother of one of the girls said the length of sentence was "disgusting" because her daughter would have to live with it for the "rest of her life" and the whole family was under a "dark cloud".

She said realising "what he'd done to her was wrong" had left a deep scar on the girl.

She said she could only imagine her daughter had been "brain-washed" by Wheeler.

Wheeler admitted five counts of having unlawful sex with the girls and six counts of indecently assaulting them.

Karim Khalil QC said, in mitigation, that Wheeler had believed the first girl to be 16 when he first made contact with her.

Mr Khalil said the girls had made a number of allegations, of which Wheeler had not been convicted and which he denied.

He added: "Mr Wheeler feels terrible, disgusted and ashamed. He accepts what he has done was wrong."

Judge Philip Curl made it clear the girls had been groomed and the offences were extremely serious.

Police believe Wheeler deliberately waited until the girls were 13.

Discrepancy highlighted

The maximum sentence for unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 13 is life.

The maximum sentence for sex with a girl over 13 is two years.

Judge Curl pointed out that senior judges had already highlighted this discrepancy - and the government is expected to make changes to the law later this year.

The charity Kidscape has been lobbying for the law to be changed.

Spokeswoman Michele Elliot said the sentence was ludicrous.

"You can go to jail for a much longer time if you burgle a house or take cars or if you are involved in drugs.

"Next to murder, this sort of crime is the worst that you can do."

'Sexual problems'

Detective Inspector Neil Smith, who led the investigation, told BBC News Wheeler posed a significant danger to young girls.

"He knew the audience he was going to target and if we hadn't arrested him he would be continuing to offend now.

"Wheeler preyed on their vulnerability. He would talk to them about their sexual problems, about problems they had with boyfriends and with their parents.

"He knew how vulnerable these girls would be."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Westhead
"Police said it was the worst case of internet grooming they'd ever seen"



SEE ALSO:
Online child abuse revealed
27 May 03  |  Northern Ireland
'I was groomed online'
06 Feb 03  |  UK News
Online child safety drive launched
06 Jan 03  |  UK News
The threat of the net
06 Jan 03  |  UK News
Q&A: Keeping safe on the net
06 Jan 03  |  Technology
Sex law changes imminent
06 Jun 03  |  UK
'My daughter is scarred for life'
06 Jun 03  |  Cambridgeshire



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