TWO men accused of sex offences involving an underage girl walked free from court after being cleared by a jury.

Rugby team-mates Christian Selkirk and Daniel Cochrane were arrested and questioned by police after the 15-year-old girl’s mother discovered the explicit nature of text conversations she had been having with older men, in June 2011.

Twenty-three-year-old Mr Selkirk, who worked at equestrian stables, admitted having had a sexual relationship with the girl over several preceding weeks, having initially been introduced as a Facebook friend, but he denied knowing she was 15.

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He told Durham Crown Court he believed she was 16 as she had mentioned re-sitting GCSEs, but as their relationship began to wane he admitted starting to have his doubts after hearing rumours about the girl.

Mr Cochrane, 36, who was a teacher at the time, said his number was given to the girl by one of her friends, with whom he was already communicating.

He told the court he believed she was of college age, 17 or 18, after being shown a picture of her on her Facebook profile.

Mr Cochrane said he initially only participated in explicit “sex texting” as a means of “winding up” Mr Selkirk, a team-mate at Gateshead Rugby Union Club, who he knew was having a relationship with the girl.

But he admitted that while it began as “a bit of banter” he was “titillated” by the content of the texts, and due to the sexually sophisticated nature of their exchanges he believed the girl must be much older.

He denied her claim that they had a liaison in his car at an industrial estate, during which she had kissed him, but he had declined to have sex as she said he told her she was too young.

Mr Cochrane described his decision to exchange texts with the girl as, “the worst mistake of my life”, as it cost him his job of 11 years as a PE teacher at Lord Lawson Academy, at Birtley, near Chester-le-Street.

He told the court that due to the nature of the allegations he would probably never be able to work as a teacher again.

The court was told the girl involved in the texting was not a pupil at that school.

Mr Selkirk, of St Cuthbert’s Avenue, Chester-le-Street, denied two counts of sexual activity with a child.

Mr Cochrane, of Corsair, in Whickham, Gateshead, denied causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

The jury returned unanimous ‘not guilty’ verdicts on all three charges on the fourth day of the trial today/yesterday (Friday January 18).

Both were discharged by Judge Christopher Prince, who also made a defendants’ costs order in their favour.