Police have described how they caught a former Pembrokeshire social worker who arranged to meet a 13-year-old girl for sex in a hotel room and sexually abused a teenager.

Richard Ford, 51, who was formerly known as Dale Richard Barker, attempted to set up a meeting with who he thought was a vulnerable child but was infact speaking with undercover police officers. 

When Ford, formerly of Pembrokeshire but now of Princess Way Road in Hackney, was arrested, police discovered more than 900 indecent images of children on his computers and found he had sexually abused a teenager on three occasions.

Ford was sentenced to five years in jail at Swansea Crown Court on Monday (February 26).

How police apprehended Ford

Ford was brought to Dyfed-Powys Police’s attention by two separate police officers who were working on an operation targeting people involved in online sexual exploitation. The operation deploys undercover officers with specialist online training on a range of social media sites to identify people with a sexual interest in children.

Information provided by the undercover team showed Ford had been communicating with officers on social networks for between four and six months.

Dyfed-Powys Police Detective Constable Joe Hartnell said: “One of the officers purported to be a woman with a 13-year-old daughter, while the other said they were a man with an 11-year-old adopted son, and a seven-year-old foster daughter.

“Believing the officers to be adults with a sexual interest in children, Ford took part in sexualised chat, asking to meet the officers and their children with the intention of carrying out sexual acts.

“Thankfully, Ford was in contact with undercover officers at this point, and not members of the public with real children who could have come to serious harm. It is believed he had been talking to at least one other adult online, however it’s not known who this was.”

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Dyfed-Powys Police’s online investigation and CID teams then attended Ford’s home, where they seized 19 digital devices. During an in-depth forensic investigation, 913 indecent images of children were found – with more than 250 classified as Category A, the most serious.

It was established that Ford was interested in girls aged between seven and 14, and had made comments online about "groping" girls.

DC Hartnell added: “This is a man who clearly has criminal thoughts about children, and as our enquiries continued a young girl disclosed that she had been inappropriately touched by Ford on three occasions.

“She was incredibly brave in coming forward, and provided us with valuable evidence which allowed us to secure further charges against Ford.”

Ford was charged with 10 offences. These were:

  • Possessing indecent photographs / pseudo photographs of a child (x4)
  • Distributing indecent photographs / pseudo photographs of a child
  • Attempting to cause a child aged between 13 and 15 to watch or look at an image of sexual activity
  • Attempt to arrange / facilitate the commission of child sex offence
  • Three counts of sexual assault

Ford "could not be trusted"

DC Hartnell added: “This has been a lengthy investigation into the actions of a man in a position of trust as a senior social worker, who in fact could not be trusted around children.

“I would like to commend the bravery of the victim in coming forward and talking to officers, as well as acknowledging the work of various departments across Dyfed-Powys Police in gathering strong evidence to convict Ford, and the support of Pembrokeshire County Council.

“We are committed to pursuing those intent on committing harm against the most vulnerable in our society, and would like to assure victims that they will be treated with compassion and dignity when they choose to report crimes to us.”

What happened in court

Ford was sentenced for arranging the commission of a child sexual offence, attempting to cause a child to watch a sexual act, possession of 910 indecent images, distribution of 19 of these images, and for the three sexual offences on the teenage girl.

Judge Her Honour Catherine Richards sentenced him to a total of five years in prison. He will spend half of this in custody and the other half on licence.

He was put on the sex offenders register for life. A further hearing will finalise the terms of a restraining order and a sexual harm prevention order.

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A victim impact statement read out in court by the mother of the girl Ford abused said: “I can’t believe you did this…It has changed my life.

“Sometimes I cry at night. Sometimes I have panic attacks too. How can someone be so sick in the head that they can do this? You knew I was vulnerable and you used that against me. I can’t believe you did this.”

In Ford’s defence, his counsel said that he was remorseful and had sought help, enrolling on a Safer Lives course and seeking professional help. He had pleaded guilty to all offences and had no previous convictions.

Social Care Wales and council statements

A spokesperson for Social Care Wales said: “We can confirm that Richard Ford, who was previously known to us as Dale Richard Barker, is currently subject to an interim suspension order, which prohibits him from working in a registered social care role in Wales.”

A Pembrokeshire County Council spokesperson added: “We are aware that an individual formerly employed by the council has been sentenced for several child sex offences.

“These offences were not committed by the individual in the course of their employment with the council, and as with any investigation into child sexual abuse, the local authority cooperated with the criminal investigation, and took all steps to ensure that any children impacted by such offences are identified and supported.

“Anyone who has a concern about the welfare of a child can contact police on 101, the child care assessment team on 01437 764551, or in an emergency, dial 999.”