A JUDGE has praised a vigilant member of the public who spotted a man sneakily pressing buttons whilst holding the stem of a pair of ‘spy glasses’ to try to record an image of a semi-naked three-year-old boy who was getting changed beside the seaside.
Christopher Hodgen (65), of Salisbury Court in Belfast, was detected at The Crescent area of Portstewart where the child was with his mother in July this year.
Hodgen had denied the two charges he faced but was convicted at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday.
District Judge Peter King said Hodgen had decided to travel to Portstewart having “armed yourself with a recording device”.
The judge added that the design of the glasses and the way in which they were used by Hodgen were “fairly surreptitious”.
Hodgen told police he had been in the Portstewart area to hear a man and woman sing after watching them at a Hugo Duncan show.
The defendant had previously entered not guilty pleas to charges of attempted voyeurism and attempting to take an indecent photo of a child.
The case followed an allegation, which was widely covered in the press in the summer, in which a member of the public said he spotted a man using ‘spy glasses’ in a bid to film a young boy changing.
The particulars of the attempted voyeurism charge were that he ‘attempted, for the purposes of sexual gratification, to record another person doing a private act knowing that the other person would not consent to being recorded’.
The second charge was that he ‘attempted to take an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child’.
At court on Monday a prosecution lawyer said all the evidence in the case had been agreed and after reading statements in his chambers, the judge was then shown the glasses used by Hodgen.
The judge told the court he had the opportunity to read the prosecution statements from civilians and police and also Hodgen’s interview from July 27.
A defence barrister said he had no objections to the witnesses not appearing in court and added that although Hodgen “maintains his innocence” the defendant did not wish to give evidence in court in his defence.
A prosecutor said a witness saw a man – Hodgen – in Portstewart and he was holding glasses by the stem and pushing buttons with a “red light” activated whilst a three-year-old boy who was “naked from the waist down” was nearby getting changed.
The court heard the glasses had audio and video capability and had been bought on July 26.
The prosecutor said that during a police interview Hodgen replied ‘no comment’ to questions about the glasses or his actions near a play area.
The prosecutor said when asked by police if there was an “innocent explanation” there had again been ‘no comment’.
The prosecution lawyer said the defendant “couldn’t have been given more opportunities to give an innocent explanation. He took the decision not to do that”.
The prosecutor said the defendant had also decided not to give an account to the court and added that the case against Hodgen was “compelling”.
He said Hodgen had been “pushing buttons” in relation to a camera in the glasses although no account was given as to whether he was trying to take a photograph or video.
Hodgen’s defence barrister said: “The factual matrix is not in dispute”.
Judge King said Hodgen had been given opportunities to comment but the reason he didn’t was that he “had no answer” and again in the dock “you had no good explanation for the allegations before the court”.
The judge said inferences could be drawn from such silences.
He added: “This is not a weak prosecution case”.
Judge King said the outline of the facts in the statements were “compelling”.
The judge said: “You decided to travel to Portstewart having armed yourself with a recording device”.
He said the device was “fairly surreptitious” in its design and in the way the defendant used it.
The judge wished to commend a witness’s “public service” in informing the police which had now resulted in Hodgen being convicted of both charges.
The court was told the defendant had a previous record.
Sentencing has been adjourned until December for a pre-sentence report but in the mean time the defendant was ordered to sign the Sex Offenders Register before leaving court.
Judge King said the length of time Hodgen would be on the register would be decided later.