A man who flew over from Northern Ireland to meet a 14-year-old girl had sex with her after proposing marriage at a Mirfield hotel.
Marc Steenson, 31, had got to know the schoolgirl through an internet chatsite and they began exchanging text messages and phone calls, a court heard.
On an earlier trip they had met up in a churchyard where he kissed and fondled her over her clothing.
But it was on his second visit in June 2012 that he took her to his room at the Travelodge in Leeds Road, proposed to her and gave her a “fairly cheap” ring from a high street chain.
Prosecutor Christopher Jackson told Leeds Crown Court on Friday that after the proposal the vulnerable girl undressed and had sex with Steenson.
They also bathed together on another day and he took photos of her, although none were ever found after their relationship came to light.
Mitigating, Neil Murphy said Steenson was an “inept and sad individual” who naively thought he was in love with the schoolgirl despite being more than twice her age. He said Steenson had been in a somewhat isolated and depressed state and thought it was a meaningful relationship. “He is an idiot rather than a dangerous paedophile,” he argued.
Steenson, of Orchardville Gardens, Belfast, admitted two charges of sexual activity with a child and was jailed for 40 months. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender for life. Sentencing, Judge Christopher Batty said the girl was vulnerable and craved affection. When she first encountered Steenson she had no idea of his age and by the time she had “it seems you were falling in love with one another,” Judge Batty said.
He said that indicated her emotional level and to some extent Steenson’s immaturity and she had clearly felt pressure that day at her age being presented with an engagement ring in a hotel room.
He said: “What informed decision could she really make about what she wants to do with you when she is 14 and you were 29?”
Judge Batty said Steenson had taken away the girl’s innocence - something which she only later realised was a huge mistake. “I accept you were naïve but to custody you must go.”