A sex offender posed such a threat to children that two police undercover officers had to pose as a mum and daughter to snare him, a court has heard.
Mark Fordham,52, presented such a risk to public safety that Police Scotland top cops launched Operation Fencing to bring him to justice.
The High Court in Edinburgh heard that Fordham was contacted by officers who can only be identified as “William” and “Laura”.
The two officers created social media profiles of a 34-year-old woman called Carly Moore and her 12-year-old daughter Lucy Harris and contacted Fordham on Instagram and Telegram, an instant messaging app.
Judge Lord Matthews heard how Fordham repeatedly sent messages to Lucy containing explicit images and language.
He also arranged to meet up with Lucy at a branch of McDonald’s in Edinburgh City Centre with the intention of engaging in sexual activity with her.
But when Fordham, of Leith, Edinburgh, turned up at the restaurant in the city’s South St Andrew’s Street on June 24 2022, he was met by police who immediately took him into custody.
On Wednesday, prosecutor Paul Harvey told the court that Fordham had been convicted in 2014 at the High Court in Edinburgh on six charges of sexually abusing children.
He was also convicted in August 2017 of ‘sexual exposure’.
Mr Harvey told Lord Matthews that Fordham’s previous criminal record and the nature of his latest offending meant that he should be assessed for an order for lifelong restriction - an effective life sentence in which Fordham will be released from custody only when the parole board considers him to no longer pose a threat to people.
Lord Matthews agreed and called for a report to assess whether Fordham presents such a risk to public safety that an order for lifelong restriction should be imposed.
Lord Matthews said: “I think this is a case where the risk criteria may be met. The case will be continued for that purpose.”
The story emerged after Fordham pleaded guilty to breaching section one of the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences Act. This means he communicated with a child with the intention of meeting with them and engaging in sexual activity.
Fordham also pleaded guilty to a charge of causing a child under the age of 13 to look at a sexual image with the intention of obtaining “sexual gratification” and communicating indecently.
Fordham sat in the dock with his head bowed as Mr Harvey read the circumstances of his offence.
The advocate depute told the court that because of his previous offending, Fordham had been placed on licence until April 2022. The latest offending took place between May and June 2022.
The court heard how police had previously visited him at his home to look at his mobile phone but became so concerned that he still posed a risk to children.
Mr Harvey added: “Owing to concerns about the potential threat that the accused might pose to children, the police initiated Operation Fencing using the undercover officers William and Laura.
“William and Laura were to engage with the accused on social media. The social media profiles created by William and Laura included a 34-year-old woman named Carly Muir and her 12-year-old daughter Lucy Harris.
“Between May 17 2022 and June 24 2033, Officers William and Laura posed online as the two and recorded all their online actions on their screens.”
The court heard that they communicated with Fordham over Instagram and Telegram.
Mr Harvey told of how Fordham communicated with 12-year-old Lucy.
He said: “On June 2 2022, the accused repeatedly asked Lucy Harris for a picture of herself.
“Officer Laura then sent the accused a pre-approved image of a young dark-haired girl which had been manipulated so it was an image of a real person.
“The accused replied with the following messages - ‘Wow. U didnae take this the wrong way please Lucy but wow you deffo your mom’s looks very beautiful girl.”
The court heard that Fordham offered to buy ‘Lucy’ Converse trainers because he knew her mother was struggling financially. He asked her how she was going to explain having the new shoes to her mum.
Fordham then started to use ‘kissing emojis’ in texts and called her ‘hun’, ‘my angel’. He referred to her as ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’ and said he was ‘blown away’ by her. He also sent messages containing more explicit content about whether he could be in her bedroom with her and claimed to be a “professional masseuse”. He also spoke about his own sexual preferences and how he had “experimented” with men.
Mr Harvey added: “He made comments about making Lucy feel awkward or overstepping her boundaries and asking if she was sure. Again, the accused asked about Lucy’s grandmother and said he definitely did not want to get himself or Lucy into trouble.
“He said that Lucy could cuddle up to him and reminded her that he slept naked. He said he did not know that she felt that way towards him.”
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The court heard that Fordham then arranged to meet ‘Lucy’ at the McDonald’s in South St Andrew’s Street. But he was met by police officers at 11.15am on June 24 2022.
Mr Harvey added: “He was cautioned. He initially made no reply but then stated ‘I’ve not been grooming anyone. I’ve arranged to meet someone I’ve been chatting to online her for lunch but that’s all. I wouldn’t consider that grooming. I’ve not sent indecent images to anyone’.
“The accused arranged the meeting with Lucy Harris at McDonald’s with the intention of engaging in sexual activity with a person under 16.
“The images he sent Lucy Harris were sexual images and communications he had with Lucy Harris were sexual written communications.
“Both images and written communications were sent with the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification.”
Lord Matthews continued the case to obtain a report detailing Fordham’s background and risk profile.
The case will next call on September 24 at the High Court in Edinburgh when defence advocate Callum Hillier will address Lord Matthews on behalf of Fordham, who was remanded in custody.