A MAN who thought he was communicating with two underage girl online, in both cases bringing the chat down to sexual matters, was unaware both were decoys set up be paedophile hunters.

Vincent Paul Ray began exchanging messages with what he believed was a 14-year-old girl last May 25.

Durham Crown Court was told, in reality, the ‘girl’ was a fake profile created by the paedophile-hunting Child Online Safety Team.

Andrew Finlay, prosecuting, said at the outset he was told she was 14, and he replied that he was 42 and from Consett, working as a team leader at a food factory.

Commenting on her profile picture, he asked how tall she was, if she had a boyfriend and if she was a virgin.

Ray also asked about her body and her ‘boobs’, and after three days of such messaging asked her to stand in front of a mirror so she could take a photograph of herself.

Mr Finlay said at this point the decoy handed the chat over to the team leader, who approached the defendant and informed police.

Following phone analysis, it emerged that at the same time he had been in touch with another decoy, also posing as a 14-year-old girl, again soon bringing the chat round to sexual matters.

Mr Finlay said when cautioned and charged Ray told police he had made the biggest mistake of his life.

The defendant, now 43, of Burnopfield Road, Rowlands Gill, admitted a charge of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

His counsel, Vic Laffey, told the court Ray was of previous good character, and the offending messaging was limited to a short period in May.

“It’s fair to say he’s remorseful about his behaviour.”

Mr Laffey said as a result of his offending Ray has lost his job and some family members have “disowned him.”

But as he is not considered a high risk, the Probation Service believes it can help him to address his behaviour.

Judge Ray Singh told Ray he, “showed an unhealthy interest in young children, not knowing they were not real.”

Ray was made subject of an eight-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and must attend 40 rehabilitation activity days overseen by the Probation Service.

He will also be subject to restrictions under a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and notification as a sex offender, both for ten years.