A PERVERT who groomed a 15-year-old girl by sharing his sexual fantasies with her online has avoided jail.

Anthony Payne pleaded guilty to a catalogue of child sex offences after his perverted intentions were discovered by the National Crime Agency in 2015.

The 32-year-old struck up the online friendship with the teenager and then used a number of different "personalities" to encourage her to engage in sexual conversations with him.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Payne said it was one of his "alternative personalities" called Jack who had targeted the girl.

Paul Cleasby, prosecuting, said the teenage victim had refused to co-operate with Cleveland Police throughout the investigation.

The court heard that Payne blamed one of his alter egos, Jack, who he claimed was "highly sexually motivated" but was not interested in children.

Mr Cleasby added: "The conversations were sexual continued being sexual even though the defendant knew he was communicating with a 15-year-old girl."

Payne used a number of different alter egos to convince the girl to take part in his sexual fantasies and persuaded her to perform sexual acts on herself while taking part in online chats lasting up to 15 hours at a time and sent her sexually explicit videos.

Among the 22 charges the defendant was facing were several of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, possession of nine category C indecent images, including five of his victim, 23 prohibited images of children being sexually abuse in cartoon form.

In mitigation, David Lamb, urged the judge to spare Payne from going to immediate custody saying his client had been receiving medical treatment for anxiety since his arrest and was an "isolated loner".

He said: "It is four years since his arrest and it is certainly not the defendant's fault that it has taken this long to come to court. He pleaded guilty during the initial police interview.

"Whilst there was concern with the police that he had re-offended in that time but fortunately he has not.

"I think that he has come close but not close enough for him to have to go to Durham Prison."

Sentencing Payne to 20 months in custody suspended for two years, Judge Peter Armstrong said the seriousness of the "grooming" offences warranted an immediate custodial sentence but his previous good character and early guilty plea meant he was prepared to impose a suspended sentence.

He said: "You were about 28 at the time you committed these offences and that is still a considerable disparity in age with this young lady who was only 15 at the time."

Payne, of Hume House, Stockton, was also given a ten-year sexual harm prevention order and ordered to take part in 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days.