Sick messages trapped alleged groomer
A man accused of messaging a 14-year-old girl online for sex, unaware it was an undercover police officer, asked if she wanted "to have fun with a married guy", a court has heard.
Steven Lovell is also accused of asking the girl if she was prepared to have sex without using a condom and saying he would teach her how to perform various sexual acts.
The married 38-year-old was granted bail in the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney today.
But Justice Peter Hamill told him: "This case appears on its face an overwhelming one and one would expect a plea of guilty.
"You can guarantee that police will have their eye on you and your electronic movements."
Mr Lovell has pleaded not guilty to one charge of using a carriage service to groom a person under 16 years for sexual activity.
If proven, the offence carries a maximum penalty of 12 years behind bars.
"Investigators used what I'll call an undercover officer to engage in intimate chat with the applicant and in the course of that made it plain that the fictional person was just 14 years of age and had very little sexual experience," Justice Hamill said.
"Over the coming months or weeks, there were various communications, allegedly between the applicant and the fictional child."
The judge said the allegations against Mr Lovell, disclosed in a police fact sheet tendered to the court, appeared to give rise to an "extremely strong" prosecution case.
This included messages Mr Lovell allegedly sent to the girl via social media.
"Did she want to have fun with a married guy? That he was talking about sex," Justice Hamill said.
"He would teach her how to perform … sexual activity including kissing and sex."
Investigators swooped in at the beginning of October last year.
Detectives from the Child Abuse and Sex Crime Squad's Child Exploitation Internet Unit had been engaging online with a man, allegedly Mr Lovell, since September.
"There was an interaction that suggested there may be a meeting between the child and the applicant and he is alleged to have asked her, 'Be honest with me, do you want to have sex?'," the judge said today.
"And later asked her if she was prepared to have sex without the use of a condom."
He said, "no such meeting in fact took place," and the alleged child groomer was arrested on October 9 before being taken to Riverstone Police Station, in Sydney's north west.
The judge, in summarising the police facts, said Mr Lovell was interviewed and allegedly "made full admissions to being the user of the relevant social media account".
"He said that what he did was a stupid mistake," Justice Hamill said.
But Mr Lovell allegedly told police that he did not plan to meet with the underage girl.
Justice Hamill granted Mr Lovell's release today on "stringent conditions" to resolve any concerns, noting the prosecution had opposed bail.
"You're to make sure that you're not engaging in any illegal activity," he said to Mr Lovell, who appeared in court via video link.
Mr Lovell replied: "That's fine."
The judge noted the matter would not be committed for trial in the NSW District Court until at least May or June.
"It'll be getting close to a year (in custody), perhaps nine months, which is a significant period of time," he said.
"Particularly in circumstances where the applicant has no prior convictions of any kind, has community support and has somewhere to live."
He said it was always difficult to determine the path a case would take and the defences that may be available to Mr Lovell.
Many bail conditions were proposed by Mr Lovell's lawyer, Claire Stimpson, but the judge added others "to forbid him access to the internet" until the matter is finalised.
Ms Stimpson said Mr Lovell's wife, Grace Chan-Lovell, had indicated in an email that access to the internet from the couple's home in Quakers Hill, in Sydney's Hills District, "had been shut off".
Justice Hamill said even if he had the power to impose conditions on Ms Chan-Lovell, "I probably shouldn't".
"I'm assuming that she wasn't aware of what was going on that led to these charges," he said.
Ms Chan-Lovell is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Mr Lovell is banned from accessing the internet and entering any internet cafe, public library or place where computers with access to the internet may be used by the public.
He must be of good behaviour, report to Blacktown Police Station three times a week and not have contact with anyone who may be a prosecution witness.
Upon release, he must travel from the correctional centre in the company of his wife, live with her in Sydney's northwest and not be in the company of any person under the age of 18 years.
Mr Lovell was also ordered to notify the officer in charge of the police investigation of details of any device in his possession or the possession of his wife capable of accessing the internet, and to let them inspect the internet search history on any such device.
He is due to face Blacktown Local Court on February 13.
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.