A MIDDLE-AGED man “exploited” an underage teenage girl for his own sexual desires, a court was told.

Over a five-month period David Potts sent the girl numerous increasingly suggestive messages, bought her gifts, exchanged intimate photographs and went on to meet her for liaisons during which sexual activity took place.

Durham Crown Court heard that their relationship only came to light when the girl’s father came across some of the messages, shortly before Christmas in 2017.

He told the girl’s mother of his shock discovery and they decided to report it to police.

But the court heard the girl still had feelings for Potts, believing they were “boyfriend/girlfriend” and resented her father’s actions.

Potts, now 54, of Beech Avenue, Spennymoor, admitted sexual communication with a child, two counts of causing a child to watch a sexual act, inciting child sexual exploitation, meeting a child following grooming and two counts of sexual activity with a child.

But he denied causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and two more serious offences of sexual activity with a child but was found guilty of all three offences by unanimous jury verdicts, following a trial earlier this year.

His sentencing hearing was told of her father’s anguish, but the girl herself stated she did not feel affected by her relationship with Potts and blames her father for it ending.

David Callan, for Potts, told the court he, “effectively, has no previous convictions”, and said the offending was over five months, but with the sexual activity being limited in nature and only taking place at the end of that period.

Judge Jonathan Carroll said he believes Potts poses a high risk of causing further serious harm and so passed an extended determinate sentence of nine years, with three years extended licence.

It means Potts can only be released from custody at the behest of the Parole Board after serving at least two-thirds, six years, of the custodial element of the sentence.

He said that the girl may not consider herself a victim, but stated that she is wrong, as she was manipulated by Potts’ grooming.

Judge Carroll told Potts: “You exploited her with a clear intention of putting your own selfish sexual desires first, last and in the middle, with no thought about what was right for her.”

Potts was made subject of registration as a sex offender for life and an indefinite sexual harm prevention order.