A MIDDLE-AGED man set off for a rendezvous in a store car park thinking he was going to meet a 14-year-old girl for a sexual encounter, a court heard.

In reality, however, George Raymond was driving into a trap set by the paedophile-hunting vigilante group Guardians of the North.

Durham Crown Court was told Raymond had arranged to meet the ‘girl’, ‘Lou18’, who he first made contact with only the previous day, at an Asda store in Pennywell, Sunderland.

Jennifer Haigh, prosecuting, said although the initial communication was via a social media site supposedly restricted for use only by 18-year-olds and above, ’Lou18’ soon told him in their early exchanges that she was only aged 14.

This did not deter the then 46-year-old defendant, who quickly brought the subject round to sex, striving to arrange a meeting with his new correspondent.

Although ‘she’ turned him down the first night, telling him she feared awakening her mother if she tried to creep out, Raymond thought he had successfully arranged to meet her for “naughties”, the following day.

Miss Haigh said he made the 20-minute drive from his home in Murton to the shopping centre in Pennywell, on April 10 last year.

But, instead of being greeted by ‘Lou18’, he was confronted by members of Guardians of the North, who detained Raymond until police arrived at the scene to complete the arrest.

When interviewed he claimed he believed ‘Lou18’ must have been older, due to the site’s age restriction.

But, he later conceded he had been told she was only 14, although he said he knew people lied about their age on such sites.

He also claimed he would not have gone through with the plan, as, “it looked bad”.

But, appearing before magistrates recently, Raymond, now 47, of West Street, Murton, admitted attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming.

The case was sent for sentence to the crown court, where Raymond’s counsel, Vic Laffey made the point that his client was of previous good character.

Mr Laffey said the defendant accepted he needs to address his issues, working with the Probation Service.

Judge Jonathan Carroll said as he was of previous good character, he was prepared to give Raymond, “one chance, and one chance only”, but if he failed to comply with the terms of his sentence, he would be jailed immediately.

He imposed a 15-month prison sentence, suspended for a year, with 34 days work to address his sexual attitudes and 20 rehabilitation activity days.

Raymond must also register as a sex offender and abide by terms of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, for ten years.