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Dunedin man, 63, told undercover cop 'age is just a number' in child sexual grooming sting

A Dunedin man charged with sexually grooming a 14-year-old girl has been sentenced to home detention.

Evan Hedley Smith in the Dunedin District Court. Source: rnz.co.nz

Evan Hedley Smith was arrested after an online police sting in which the 63-year-old discussed taking the 14-year-old's virginity.

What Smith did not know was the 14-year-old girl he was communicating with on social media and via text messages was in fact a police detective.

Police launched the online operation while investigating a series of suspicious approaches being made to school girls around Dunedin in 2018.

In June 2018, Smith was acquitted on multiple counts of indecent assault and rape following a trial in the Dunedin District Court.

In September that year, soon after police reported several suspicious approaches of school children, a detective from the Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand team sent a Facebook friend request to Smith posing as a 14-year-old girl.

The pair discussed the girl's living and schooling situation and from 15 September Smith began referring to the girl using various terms of endearment such as honey and beautiful.

He used the various terms more than 500 times during their three months of contact and on 6 November began telling the girl he loved her.

On 9 November she told Smith she had not long turned 14 and asked if he wanted to remain in contact. Smith replied: "age is only a number".

The pair began discussing a potential meeting and Smith asked if she was still a virgin and when told she was, said that she should save her virginity for him.

The pair arranged to meet her at a playground in Dunedin on 20 December 2018.

"When the subject of sex was raised the defendant stated that he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her because he loved her," a summary of facts said.

"When told she was nervous about having sex, the defendant reiterated he was wanting to have sex with her and described his own first experience of sex, going into detail about acts he did with a previous girlfriend.

"The defendant joked that the detective should wear nothing when they met."

Police found him in his car waiting for the girl.

In explanation he told the police he wanted to meet the girl to explain he could not take her for a drive in his car as she was only 14 years old and just a child.

He admitted telling her he loved her and calling her honey and beautiful, but told the police "he was treating her like he would a daughter".

Judge Michael Turner sentenced Smith to five months home detention and further ongoing supervision.

The judge told Smith his explanation for arranging to meet the girl was "nonsense" and he showed no remorse "beyond that inherent in your guilty plea".

"You were grooming her for a sexual encounter with you."

Smith was also added to the child sex offender register.

rnz.co.nz