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GUILTY: James Ndungu. Photo: James Connell
A FORMER teacher who walked free after sex chats with decoys he believed were 14-year-old girls could have been jailed for up to three years.
James Ndungu, a teacher at Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic High College, was spared an immediate jail sentence at Worcester Crown Court yesterday (Wednesday), walking free with a large rucksack on his back.
The 45-year-old father and churchgoer of Hillside Close, Worcester, communicated with two ‘decoy’ children set up by a vigilante group called Justice4Kids whose mission is to protect children from online predators.
He admitted two counts of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, both decoys posing as 14-year-old girls and arranging the commission of a child sexual offence.
How we reported the sentence
Giles Nelson, prosecuting, said the starting point was a prison sentence of 26 weeks with a range available of between a high-level community order and three years in prison.
These comments are based on the Crown’s interpretation of the sentencing guidelines which are designed to ensure fairness and parity between courts across the country.
Judge James Burbidge QC said there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ and that he felt ‘just’ able to suspend the sentence.
His former school’s response
The judge said the offending had been over ‘a short period of time’ and that the online chat had taken place on ‘an over-18 platform’.
Worcester’s most senior judge also said that those who knew Ndungu ‘in a professional capacity and at church say you are, in all other respects, a worthy individual’.
He also referred to the defendant already having suffered, losing his job and career.
«That will be lost to you forever» he said. He also said that, with the defendant’s wife working nights, he was needed to look after their children, one of whom had special needs.
«It seems immediate custody will result in a significant harmful impact on your children,» he said.
To jail him would create what the judge called ‘ a traumatic situation’ for his family.
The decision followed Mr Nelson asking the judge to consider a number of aggravating features of the case including the location of the intended offence – he invited the decoy to his own home where his own two children would have been present.
«There was an encouragement to delete messages. It would have involved her leaving her family member’s home» he said.
Mr Nelson said the defendant’s culpability was ‘A’ – the highest in the guidelines and that the offences involved ‘grooming behaviour’ and ‘a significant disparity in age’.
«This man made a firm plan to have sexual activity on his own admission at his home address with a 14-year-old,» said the prosecutor.
He resigned from the school in February following his arrest.
Ndungu invited a ‘girl’ to abscond from the home of her aunt, giving her detailed directions about how to get to his house, including the names of Worcester’s two railway stations and train times.
All the offences took place between October 5 and October 10 last year but the school Ndungu taught at was not disclosed in open court.
Giles Nelson, prosecuting, said Ndungu began talking to the decoys, set up by a team of women called Justice4Kids, on an internet chat room for adults.
The defendant had a profile called ‘black teacher’, opening the conversation with the decoy by asking: «How are you?»
The decoy replied that she was 14-years-old and Ndungu replied: «I’m okay with your age.»
«He went on to ask if she liked older men and whether she was horny,» said Mr Nelson.
From there the chat moved to WhatsApp where Ndungu described the ‘girl’ as ‘sexy and gorgeous’, sending her a selfie, asking her not to share that photo with anyone else. The defendant told the decoy his real name and address, that he was a married teacher and a father-of-two.
Ndungu told the decoy he really liked her, describing her as ‘nice’ and ‘hot’ and asking ‘whether she would like cuddles from him’.
The churchgoer told her that if she was at his school he would fancy her, also asking for a further picture.
He also asked if her dad checked her phone before he sent her a further selfie, asking if anyone else knew they were chatting.
«He describes the chat as ‘our secret’,» said Mr Nelson.
Ndungu asked if she could come to Worcester but the only time he could meet her was night time ‘because his wife worked nights’.
The former teacher provided her with details of the locations of both railway stations, telling her she could sleep on his sofa but would have to leave before his wife returned from her nightshift.
A separate decoy from the same group also posed as a 14-year-old girl.
Again Ndungu said he was ‘okay’ about her age and there was an exchange of selfies as he asked her ‘if she liked older guys and had been with any older guys as in sex’.
Ndungu said he would like to give her ‘kisses and cuddles’ and described the decoy as ‘cute’.
When arrested the defendant answered ‘no comment’ to questions put to him in police interview.
Ndungu, a native of Kenya, had no previous convictions, completing his teaching course in 2000 before he started working as a teacher in 2005 and was based at the same school for 15 years.
Married in 2004, he has ‘two dependent children’ and a mortgage with his wife. He was suspended from his job upon his arrest and resigned in February this year.
Ndungu, who had been ‘the main breadwinner’, is now working on a zero-hours contract in a warehouse. His weekly wage has dropped from £650 to £250.
As there was no actual child victim he said ‘mercifully there was no harm’. He said he felt ‘just’ able to suspend the sentence, imposing a 15-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
Ndungu must complete 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days and 200 hours of unpaid work.
A 10-year sexual harm prevention order was also made which will restrict the defendant’ use of the internet, including making contact with children under 16 and installing any encryption or wiping software.
Any devices must be made available on request. He must sign the Sex Offender Register for 10 years.
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