A MAN who sent an indecent image of himself to a 12-year-old girl was arrested when it turned out that she was actually a police officer.

Tony Lunn had the explicit conversation, with who he thought was a young girl called Maddie, through social media app Kik while he was chatting to people about sex.

At first the 36-year-old, who called himself MemeTonyDarlo on the app, told the 'young girl' that she shouldn't be on the social media platform as it was for adults to talk about sex, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Robin Patton, prosecuting, said the defendant had been 'mesmerised' by the girl and contacted her again by sending her a picture of genitals and telling her he was performing a sex act while asking her to send him a picture of herself.

"It was at this point that the grooming started," he said. "He was clearly mesmerised by speaking to a 12-year-old child. He said he would get himself drunk, get fruity, and he would go on to chat to birds."

He added: "This was an attempt to groom a 12-year-old girl to take part in sexualised conduct."

The father-of-one had pleaded guilty to a charge of attempting to encourage a child to engage in a sexual act at an earlier hearing.

In mitigation Nick Askins told the court that after his client's arrest police carried out a forensic examination of Lunn's electronic devices and did not find an indecent images of children – something that Judge Howard Crowson said was 'highly unusual' in such cases.

Mr Askins added that after the initial contact on December 4, Lunn sent the explicit messages but all subsequent messages between the pair were relatively mundane.

The court heard that Lunn had struggled with drink and drug problems as well as being treated for depression.

Judge Crowson sentenced Lunn to a two year community order with a drug rehabilitation element attached to address the risk of him reoffending.

He said: "This type of offence causes great difficulties for the court, what it reveals is that a man in his 30s talking in a sexual way to someone who is 12-years-old, it turns out it wasn't a 12-year-old girl but a police officer. It's relevant to note that police investigated whether there was any other offences committed and it is unusual for them not to find any.

"At the time you found solace in drink or other substances and that clearly disinhibited you and the concern is that you could be disinhibited again."

Lunn, of Derwent Street, Darlington, was also ordered to sign on the sex offenders register and pay a £85 victim surcharge.