Teen who groomed underage girls avoids jail for second time

Thomas Ferguson groomed girls online. Credit: PA

A Cumbrian teenager who "groomed" underage girls online has avoided jail for the second time.

Thomas Matthew Ferguson, 18, sent pictures of his private parts to girls as young as 13 after making contact with them on Facebook.

The Tesco worker had a sexual encounter with one 14-year-old girl in a car park after persuading her to meet him, and convinced a 13-year-old to send him a picture of her bare breast.

Ferguson, of The Green, Bransty, Whitehaven, however escaped custody when he was brought before a judge at Carlisle Crown Court, after pleading guilty to a raft of sex offences.

Carlisle Crown Court. Credit: ITV Border

In June, he was sentenced to a three-year community order, which included a curfew and a requirement for him to attend a sex offenders treatment programme.

That sentence was criticised as nowhere near tough enough by the Solicitor General, Robert Buckland QC, who referred the case to top judges to be looked at again.

Today Lord Justice Fulford, Mr Justice Flaux and Mrs Justice Thirlwall, sitting at London's Criminal Appeal Court, found that the community sentence was "unduly lenient".

But Ferguson walked free again, after the court substituted a two-year sentence of detention, suspended for two years.

The court heard Ferguson had been treated mercifully by the Crown Court judge after she received an expert psychological report.

That stated that he was "more emotionally immature than his years" and was "a very good candidate for a treatment programme."

Mr Buckland's lawyers today argued that the judge had been too soft on Ferguson.

Lord Justice Fulford agreed that "there is wholly justified public concern about offences of this nature."

But he went on to suspend that sentence, after hearing that Ferguson is responding well to the treatment programme.

"He is young and immature. It is in his interests and in the interests of society at large for him to receive professional help at this important stage of his life," he told the court.

"The sentence will be suspended," the judge concluded.