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Detective who arranged to sexually abuse girl, 8, caught in police sting

A detective who used a police station computer to arrange sex with an eight-year-old girl has been jailed.

Lee Cunliffe, 40, from Bolton, chatted online with a mother who he thought was offering her daughter for sex.

The detective constable for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) boasted about how he would travel to London to abuse the girl.

But what he didn’t know was that the woman he was speaking to was an undercover officer involved in a sting operation to snare paedophiles.

A subsequent investigation revealed that Cunliffe, who worked in GMP’s specialist sex crime unit, had closed a probe into a suspected paedophile, and viewed seized images for his own perverse pleasure.

The married dad-of-one’s sick sexual interest in children first emerged in September, 2020, following a sting operation by the Metropolitan Police.

An officer at the London force, posing as ‘Mel’, started a conversation with Cunliffe, who was using the handle ‘Steve S mancgent1’ on the internet chatroom KIK.

The detective spoke about Mel’s fictional eight-year-old daughter ‘in order to sexually abuse her’, telling her that he was ‘not simply a fantasist’, Liverpool Crown Court heard.

‘A fantasist in the paedophile world is someone who would talk about abuse all day long but never actually travel or come out from behind their devices to abuse. The defendant is saying that he is not one of these,’ the investigator explained.

Cunliffe, who spent 17 years in the force, told ‘Mel’ his job gave him the ‘freedom to travel’ and that he visited London five or six times each year.

Typing from Swinton police station, said he planned to visit the capital the following month for three nights and detailed how he could get the girl to perform sex acts on him.

The Met Police operation Operaton Mosecc, discovered ‘Steve S’ was actually a serving officer with GMP, prompting a swoop on Swinton police station in October 2020.

Cunliffe was arrested and his iPhone was seized. Officers also raided his home and found evidence of files between 2014 and 2018 indicative of child abuse were found on his Toshiba laptop.

Analysis of the laptop also revealed Cunliffe had accessed a disc from the force’s High Tech Crime Unit in April 2020 while off duty.

This prompted another investigation which revealed Cunliffe had viewed more sick images as part of a 2019 investigation concerning a 15-year-old girl.

The teenager alleged her boyfriend had taken a series of pictures of them having sex and shared them without her knowledge.

The boyfriend was arrested and his Lenovo computer and Samsung mobile were taken in for analysis.

Cunliffe lied on the crime log, claiming ‘there is nothing on either device seized’, and the investigation was later closed.

He told his supervisors he had tried and failed to reach the teenager and her social worker. The suspect was told there would be no further action.

But the court heard both devices contained 227 indecent pictures and videos of children, 155 of them the most serious ‘category A’ images.

The laptop – still containing the indecent images – was returned to the boyfriend, who potentially faces prosecution over a separate case of indecent images posted online.

After his arrest Cunliffe said that even though he felt ‘sexual excitement’ during conversations with ‘Mel’ he would not have carried out any abuse.

Judge Andrew Menary QC told Cunliffe: ‘Although some of these offences were committed by you in private while off-duty, they are all seriously aggravated by the simple fact that as a police officer the public is entitled to expect you will do all you can and could have done to uphold the criminal law.’

Noting that the child Cunliffe tried to source for sex was not real, Judge Menary said: ‘It’s plain for me that the opportunity for that, had it arisen, then you would have taken it.’

Cunliffe showed no emotion as he was handed a jail sentence of eight years and four months and no members of his family were in the court.

He was also ordered to sign the sex offenders’ register for life and made the subject of a ten-year sexual harm prevention order.

Cunliffe admitted perverting the course of justice, three charges of possession of indecent images of children, distributing indecent images of children, misconduct in a public office and facilitating the commission of a child sex offence.

Earlier, his barrister Julian King said the defendant has seen a psychotherapist who had diagnosed ‘compulsive sexual behaviour disorder’.

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