A SEX offender was in online communication with what he believed to be four different underage girls within a two-month period, a court heard.

Sven Hendriksen, 45, was, in reality, exchanging messages at roughly the same time with decoy profiles posted by four different paedophile-hunting groups.

Durham Crown Court was told Hendriksen made initial contact with all four via a chat room site, believing they were girls aged 13 and 14.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said he asked them to switch the messaging onto WhatsApp , where he chatted sexually, asking the ‘girls’ for pictures of themselves in underwear and sending them images of his genitalia.

Hendriksen asked one to be his girlfriend, telling her he would come to Scotland to perform oral sex on her.

As with other girls he urged her to remove the messages and not to tell her parents.

A Scottish vigilante group contacted counterparts in Newcastle, who confronted Hendriksen at his home in Bishop Auckland, while police, tipped off by another group, also visited his address, on February 24, 2019.

Asking where his phone was, he said he smashed it and put it in a tub of paint.

It proved impossible to fully analyse its contents, but a large amount of the messaging was recovered.

Mr Baker said Hendriksen neither informed them about the phone or this use of the alias ‘Steven Henderson’, both in breach of his sex offender notification requirements imposed along with a suspended prison sentence for possessing indecent images of children, in 2017.

The suspended sentence had just expired at the time of the 2019 offences, but he was still subject to the notification requirements.

Hendriksen confirmed he spoke to the girls online about sex, but claimed he did not intend to meet them.

But he admitted using the alias and that he had not reported possession of the phone, which he tried to destroy so he would not get into trouble with the police.

Amrit Jandoo, mitigating, said the defendant still faces the same mental health difficulties and depression he did when he committed the offences in 2017 and was on, ”a downward spiral”, when the latest offending took place.

Judge Ray Singh told Hendriksen: “I’m afraid you are someone who has an unhealthy interest in children”

He said although all the ‘girls’ were decoys, “as far as you were concerned these were genuine children.”

Hendriksen, of Dorset Place, Bishop Auckland, admitted four counts of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, plus failing to comply with notification requirements.

He was jailed for 29 months and made subject of registration as a sex offender and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, both for a further ten years.