A COUNTY Durham man who sent photos of his genitalia to a paedophile hunter he thought was a 14-year-old girl has avoided prison.

Craig Gilbert, from Stanley, was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to two charges of attempting to incite a child under the age of 16 to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child following grooming.

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Durham Crown Court heard Gilbert, 28, was caught after a woman, who is part of the Leeds based paedophile hunter group Justice for Kids, posed as a 14-year-old girl called “Alana.”

The court heard Gilbert’s first question to the girl was “what age are you?” and after learning she was 14, they continued to chat using the mobile messaging service Whatsapp.

Ian West, prosecuting, said the chat quickly became sexual, with Gilbert sending a photo of his penis and telling the girl he wanted to make her his sex toy.

They then arranged to meet in the car park of Asda in Stanley, where Gilbert was met by members of Geordie Chasers – another paedophile hunter group, who had been tipped off by the Leeds-based group.

The Northern Echo:

Craig Gilbert was given a suspended sentence at Durham Crown Court

Susan Hurst, mitigating, said Gilbert, was isolated and was in an unhappy relationship at the time. She added: “It doesn’t excuse what he has done and he doesn’t excuse what he has done. He has led a sad life up to date.

“He has found it difficult to form friendships with people who are younger because he finds it more difficult to relate to people of his own age.”

“He has led a relatively isolated existence.”

She added he had already been in touch with Talking Changes, a therapy service, and mental health charity Mind to seek help.

Gilbert, of Eastfields, was given a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and will have to take part in the Horizon sex offender programme.

He will also have a three-month curfew between 6pm and 6am every day and will be subject to a sexual harm prevention order.

Judge Jonathan Carroll said: “Though this was not a real child, there are many real children out there and they need protection from this kind of interest in them.

“You are a real risk of causing harm.”

But he added: “There has to be a balance between the punishment you richly deserve and society’s interest in reducing the risk you pose.

“Someone of 28 who has demonstrated a willingness to engage is entitled to at least one chance to put things right.

“That is not offered to you in your interest but in society’s interest.”