A Basingstoke man has been spared jail after being convicted of meeting a child he had groomed.

Joshua James Wheeler, of Penine Way, had been charged with sexually communicating with two girls under the age of sixteen. While on bail, he was arrested for attempting to meet with another teenage girl, who was revealed to be a fake police persona.

Having served nine months in prison on remand, the 20-year-old was today (May 28) given 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, by a judge at Winchester Crown Court.

Addressing Wheeler, Recorder Casey said that he had “some concern” giving the sentence, warning him that there would be “immediate and drastic consequences” if he breached the terms of his sentence or committed another offence.

The offences in question occurred last year, where Wheeler was charged on two counts of sexual communication. He accepted communicating with them but denied it was in a sexual manner.

Prosecutor Ms Fargin read out a statement from a victim in court, who said that at the time of the incident “[she] was scared about going out of the house and what would happen” if she encountered Wheeler.

The victim’s statement said that the incident “caused multiple ticks” and somatization disorder, which is a condition where sufferers incur “significant psychological distress” by fixating on symptoms.

While on bail, he began messaging with a girl he believed was 14, and arranged to meet at Basingstoke Train Station on September 3, 2020. However, he was instead communicating with an undercover police officer, and he was arrested on arrival.

He pleaded guilty to this offence, but had pleaded not guilty to the sexual communication offences, and so was tried. Recorder Casey, who presided in the trial, said he “didn’t present as the most sympathetic of witnesses.”

He was found guilty on one count, with a jury unable to reach a verdict on the second. At the sentencing, a verdict of not guilty was entered for this charge.

Mitigating, Mr Houston said that Wheeler had been placed into care at the age of six and was fostered until her was 14. He noted that a psychological report prepared on his client noted that he had “an IQ as low as 69” and “intellectual and social functioning at the level of a juvenile”.

He said the offences had occurred when Wheeler decided to move to Southampton and out of his family home, adding that his mother was prepared to have him home “and so all she can to stop this happening again”.

“He needs help as with all due respect his mother can’t do it all herself,” Mr Houston said. “Mum’s rules and probation would help this court not see him again.”

He said that while Wheeler had lied about his persona, he had not lied about his age while communicating with the undercover officer.

Summing up, Recorder Casey said: “You are within the learning disabilities range and have had problems in your emotional development. However, you made your own life more difficult when you moved to Southampton to live in a house of multiple occupancy. Whilst there, you committed the offences.”

He imposed a sentence of 12 months for the grooming charge, and six months for the sexual communications, to be served consecutively for a total of 18 months. This sentence was then suspended for two years.

Recorder Casey did voice a note of concern when addressing Wheeler, saying: “Your lack of remorse is notable and your somewhat equivocal attitude to your offending gives this court some concern.”

In addition to the suspended sentence, Wheeler must complete a rehabilitation activity requirement of 30 days, must attend an accredited sexual offending programme and is the subject of a sexual harm prevention order, the details of which were not disclosed.