A man who travelled from America with the intention of meeting a young girl he sexually groomed online has been convicted, police have announced.
Fredis Mata, 25, a US national, was arrested on arrival at Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal.
During a routine check by Border Force officers, he initially claimed he had been visiting the UK to meet a woman, police said.
However, after further probing, Mata admitted the person he was meeting was in fact a girl under the age of 16.
At this point, he was referred for a further interview and search, which revealed a large number of sex toys in his luggage, including ropes and harnesses.
Enquiries with Hertfordshire Police, as Mata said he was going to stay at the Premier Inn at Welwyn Garden City, confirmed the victim as being under the age of 16.
Police said it was also confirmed the victim and Mata had been involved in an online relationship and the nature of the conversations were very sexualised.
Mata, a builder, of no fixed address, was subsequently charged with the following offences, namely meeting a child following sexual grooming, causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child.
Police said he pleaded guilty to all three offences at Lewes Crown Court last Thursday (March 1) and has been remanded in custody for sentencing on April 12.
Detective Inspector Andy Richardson said: “The online conversations between Mata and his victim were initiated by him, and although the victim was reluctant to engage in them at times, Mata would coerce her into participating in his fantasies through emotional threats and control.
“The victim was also forced into performing sex acts via video with Mata and his intentions upon meeting the victim were very obvious. Frighteningly, their meeting had been arranged for a specific date and time.
“Mata is a devious sexual predator who came very close to destroying the life of a vulnerable girl, and was only prevented from doing so by the magnificent work of Border Force officers, who proactively stopped him and referred the case to Sussex Police.
“I would urge parents to be aware of what their children are doing online as predators do exist and target vulnerable children. What may start off as an innocent encounter can quickly develop into something more sinister.
“The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre provides some good advice.”
Emma Porter, director of Border Force South, said: “This was an excellent stop by the Border Force officer on the immigration controls, who quickly assessed that Mata’s case warranted further investigation. That vital intervention was the crucial first step towards bringing a dangerous sexual predator to justice.
“The case is a valuable reminder of just why the checks we conduct at passport control are so important. Thousands of people pass through the immigration halls at Gatwick every day and every single one is subjected to full security checks. It is challenging work but, as this case demonstrates, work that our officers do well.”