A FORMER army man who committed a sex act in front of a young girl has been spared jail by a judge who said he was unlikely to offend again.

Paul Ingram, 50, of Elm Close, Northallerton, smiled at the girl as he pleasured himself, although the incident was only said to last a matter of seconds.

The father-of-four previously admitted a charge of sexual activity in the presence of the child, sometime between January 1 2008 and May 2009, on the eve of his trial at Teesside Crown Court

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Dan Cordey, mitigating, said there was no pre-planning and it had been an isolated incident.

Mr Cordey said Ingram had been in the Army for ten years and had been a conscientious and decent individual as far as the service was concerned up until the point he was discharged.

The court heard how the defendant had suffered a stroke from which he had now largely recovered and was working, albeit in a limited capacity.

Mr Cordey said Ingram, who required first aid treatment after suffering breathing difficulties in the dock, was terrified at the prospect of jail and said a suspended sentence would mark the gravity of the offence.

Judge Howard Crowson agreed with many of Mr Cordey's points and also referred to a probation report which said he was unlikely to re-offend in the future.

Ingram received a 12 month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, and will be made subject to an unlimited sexual offences prevention order.

He will also have to register with police as a sex offender for the next ten years.