THREE British men who used an internet chatroom to hatch a "harrowing" plot to rape two young schoolgirls have been jailed.
The three were the first people convicted in Britain of such a serious offence from online exchanges alone.
David Beavan, 42, Alan Hedgcock, 41, and Robert Mayers, 42, were found guilty in a London court of conspiracy to rape. Beavan was sentenced to 11 years in jail, while Hedgcock and Mayers received eight-year sentences. They pleaded guilty to possessing pornographic images of children.
Prior to their arrests, they had never physically met. However, the court was told that this had not prevented them from "drooling" over the possibility of turning their fantasies into chilling reality.
Passing sentence, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin said the men posed a "serious risk of physical and psychological harm to children" and instructed that they be registered as sex offenders for life.
Referring to their chatroom logs, he said: "You were drooling over the prospect to take these children into the woods and rape them. These logs were further spiced, if that is the right word, by the swapping of pornographic images of young children.
"All three of you were found to be in possession of very many photographs of children, some of them … very shocking."
Police first heard of their plan when "rape-obsessed" Beavan, of Hampshire, got cold feet and walked into Bournemouth police station in January last year to tell officers what had been going on.
The greeting-cards salesman claimed he was just a "vigilante" gathering evidence against pedophiles, but he was convicted of two counts of conspiracy to rape.
Hedgcock, a film make-up artist from Twickenham, south-west London, and Mayers, of Cheshire, were found guilty of the same charge.
During their trial, the court was told that, after meeting in an incest chatroom, "child-porn addict" Hedgcock had told Beavan he wanted to abuse two sisters aged 13 and 14.
His plan was to pounce on the girls as they walked through woods to school. Beavan immediately made it clear he was interested in helping and sought to recruit Mayers. But Beavan lost his nerve when he thought the authorities might be closing in and contacted police. Police found more than 5000 child porn images on his computer.
All three admitted various charges, including 50 counts of distributing, making and possessing thousands of indecent images of children.
Outside the court, Detective Constable Dave Adams said: "These three men took a step beyond fantasy and have actually identified the children they would target, the location where they would approach them and what exactly they planned to do to them."
He said: "For the first time, internet chat logs have been used to prove a charge of conspiracy to rape a child.
"This case should act as a really stark warning that the internet is not a hiding place to plan and participate in criminal acts."