An ex-soldier has avoided an immediate jail term after he ‘befriended’ a 12-year-old boy and let the youngster drink alcohol and vape in his home.
Anthony Lingard, 39, has been given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to five counts of child abduction concerning one boy between July 2019 and January 2020.
Lingard, a decorated former firefighter and soldier, gave the boy and other children ‘free rein’ at his home in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester.
He also took the boys camping in a local park and taught them about nature and how to build dens, Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court heard.
Anthony Lingard (pictured), 39, has been given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to five counts of child abduction concerning one boy between July 2019 and January 2020
The 12-year-old lied to his parents, telling them he was going to a classmate’s house. But Lingard ‘compounded’ the lie and didn’t correct it, the court heard.
He allowed the boys to stay over at his home and even told the schoolboy he could bring his girlfriend.
Lingard was not charged with any sexual offences and maintained his crimes were not sexually motivated.
Sparing him an immediate jail term, the judge said he showed traits of having ‘high functioning autism’, while a former boss within the fire service described him as ‘eccentric’ but denied his behaviour was ‘predatory’.
The boy’s father said: ‘I feel like I have failed my son.’
The court heard that Lingard, a childless loner, had been a soldier in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before going on to work as a PCSO in Eccles and then as a firefighter in Ramsbottom for 13 years, gaining a number of ‘impressive commendations’.
While he was a firefighter he lived alone at a house in Radcliffe and became friendly with a boy through his family. Lingard’s victim became friends with the boy at school and through him was introduced to Lingard.
The boys began going round to Lingard’s home, where he allowed them to drink alcohol, smoke vapes and stay overnight.
The other child’s parents knew where he was going but the 12-year-old lied to his and said he had been going to a friend’s father’s house.
The boy’s father spoke to Lingard, who did not correct him or tell him he wasn’t actually a father. He built up trust with Lingard, and checked with him each time to make sure he was okay with his son visiting.
The boy visited up to 15 times over a seven-month period but Lingard’s behaviour was exposed after the visits became known at school and the police were called in.
The boy’s father said: ‘He now understands what Mr Lingard did was grooming. He has manipulated a young boy.
‘I feel like I should have done more, but I think: “What more could I have done? Why would I not believe that?”‘
The father said his son and the family have been left traumatised.
Lingard, a decorated former firefighter and soldier, took the boys camping in a local park and taught them about nature and how to build dens, Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court (pictured) heard
Judge Angela Nield said to the 39-year-old: ‘It is difficult to explain any motive for your actions.’
Lingard appeared in court for sentencing in May but the case was adjourned for a psychological report to be drawn up.
After reading a report of the case in the press, two of his former fire service colleagues submitted letters to the court about their experiences of him.
Retired watch commander Steve Wilcock described Lingard as ‘eccentric’ and ‘intelligent’, adding: ‘I don’t believe he is predatory. He struggles to adhere to rules he does not understand.’
Another former colleague, Saul Hickey, said Lingard was someone who was ‘looking for acceptance and respect’, and believed his work with Army cadets may have provided him with a ‘need for recognition and perhaps comradeship’.
Sentencing, Judge Nield said: ‘This is one of the most unusual cases that I have had to deal with in my many years of sitting as a Crown court judge. You had befriended, and it’s difficult to find another way of describing it, a group of young boys.
‘It is fully accepted by the prosecution and part of your basis of plea that no sexual offences were committed against the victim in any of the counts.
The court heard that Lingard (pictured), a childless loner, had been a soldier in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before going on to work as a PCSO in Eccles and then as a firefighter in Ramsbottom for 13 years, gaining a number of ‘impressive commendations’
‘It is one of the great acts of faith that a parent undertakes to allow their child out of their care and control and into the care and control of another.’
She said Lingard had ‘failed on every level to provide that level of care and support’.
Judge Nield continued: ‘While you may not have directly lied to [the boy’s father], you compounded his lie by confirming and reinforcing it. You failed to correct the situation and by default continued to perpetuate that lie over the many occasions that he stayed at your home.’
But the judge said she was able to avoid sending Lingard to prison after he was judged to post a low risk of reoffending and because of the impact of his suspected autism. She said he ‘would not have foreseen the harm’ expressed by the boy’s family.
Andy Evans, mitigating, said Lingard had sold his former home due to the ‘stigma’ of his crime and has since resigned his position at the fire service.
Lingard was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, and ordered to complete 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days and 100 hours of unpaid work.
As part of the sentence he is prohibited from having unsupervised contact with children under the age of 16 for six months.