A father of two has been cast out by the travelling community after admitting trying to meet a 14-year-old boy for sex.
Tony Lawson, 37, of Garstang, who married into a fairground family, was said by a judge to have been “ostracised” after he confessed his guilt to a court in Newcastle.
Lawson groomed the boy online, even after being told he was only 14. What he didn’t know was it was an elaborate sting carried out by paedophile vigilante group Guardians of the North.
Members lay in wait when he arranged to meet the boy at shops in his native Sunderland, followed him home and alerted police.
Judge Edward Bindloss told him: “Although not born into, you have spent most of your life with the travelling community, working with them and marrying into the travelling community and living with your wife’s family.
“On the day you pleaded guilty they turned against you and ostracised you.”
Lawson escaped jail, receiving a 16-month suspended sentence instead. Guardians of the North reacted angrily to the sentence, describing it as “a joke.”
The court heard Lawson had been chatting to a “decoy” on the dating website Grindr. Prosecutor Paul Cleasby said the organisation provided officers with screenshots of online conversations where Lawson had told the child he was “horny,” had sent explicit pictures and offered to be the child’s first sexual experience.
The judge said Lawson felt “genuine shame” for what he did. It had turned out to be a “turning point” in his life.
He had received help from a volunteer organisation and was focused on the future.