A police officer who was caught by undercover cops arranging to travel to London so he could sexually abuse an eight-year-old girl has been jailed for more than eight years.
Lee Cunliffe, 40, was a serving officer within Greater Manchester Police when he first began messaging a woman he believed was the mother of the child on instant messaging app Kik in September 2020.
He used the name ‘Steve S mancgent1’ to speak to the woman, who was actually an undercover officer in the Met Police, telling her he would visit London to sexually abuse her daughter.
Cunliffe appeared at Liverpool Crown Court to be sentenced on Thursday after pleading guilty to arranging the commission of a child sex offence, perverting the course of justice, misconduct in a public office, distributing indecent photos of a child, and three counts of making indecent photos.
Recorder of Liverpool, Judge Andrew Menary QC, said: ‘The type of conduct you were contemplating with this very young child could hardly have been more serious.’
He was jailed for eight years and four months.
Arthur Gibson, prosecuting, told the court that a police probe revealed Cunliffe had sent the messages, including from the IP address of a police-owned computer at Swinton Police Station, and he was arrested in October 2020.
A subsequent search of his home in Hindley Green, Wigan, led to police finding a laptop he had been using to access indecent images of children.
This included images of a ‘plainly vulnerable’ teenage girl who had made a complaint to Greater Manchester Police in 2018, the court heard.
Lee Cunliffe, based at Greater Manchester Police’s Salford district, has been jailed after pleading guilty to one count of attempting to arrange/facilitate the commission of a child sex offence, three counts of making an indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child, one count of distributing an indecent photograph/pseudo-photograph of a child, one count of misconduct in a public office and one count of perverting the course of justice. Three other charges were ordered to lie on file
Cunliffe was sentenced to eight years and four months’ imprisonment at Liverpool Crown Court
Mr Gibson said the girl alleged her boyfriend had taken indecent images of her and distributed them without her knowledge.
Cunliffe, a trainee in the Criminal Investigation Department, was allocated to the case and the suspect was arrested and his computer and phone seized.
He later wrote an entry on the crime log claiming there was nothing on either device relating to the offence, the court heard.
However, Mr Gibson told the court: ‘In fact, both devices contained both still and moving indecent images of children, a total of 227 being accessible.
The computer was returned to the suspect with the indecent images still on and no further action was taken.
Judge Menary said: ‘What you did in relation to this girl and this case is shocking and strikes at the very heart of that foundation of trust that the public have invested in the police service.
‘The consequence for the teenage complainant is that her complaint was never properly pursued and she remained seriously at risk of further disclosure.
‘The question, frankly, is this: why should she ever trust the police ever again about anything?’
The misconduct in a public office charge related to failing to properly investigate the case.
The court heard a search of Cunliffe’s laptop also found evidence of files from between 2014 and 2018, which were indicative of child abuse.
Mr Gibson said: ‘The evidence shows the defendant did have an interest in child pornography and the sexual abuse of children.
‘However, there is some evidence to suggest that he recognised this and was in a state of turmoil about it.’
Police also found a notebook inside Cunliffe’s home, which included entries saying he had a sex and porn addiction for which he was receiving counselling.
Julian King, defending, said in mitigation that Cunliffe was a married father and had been a police officer for 17 years.
He added that Cunliffe had been seeing a psychotherapist, who said he had compulsive sexual behaviour disorder.