A TWENTY-YEAR-OLD man arranged to meet an underage girl for sex, having spent months grooming her in online messaging, a court heard.

Dave Hirchfield travelled from his home in Sheffield for the liaison with the girl in her home town in County Durham, on Wednesday February 9.

Durham Crown Court heard that that several months earlier the girl’s mother discovered her daughter was exchanging messages on the internet with a man called Dave Hirchfield.

Elizabeth Muir, prosecuting, said although the conversations were not sexual and there was no talk of a meeting, at that stage, she blocked him on her daughter’s phone, but did not take it further.

But on February 9 the girl told her mother she was going out to a nearby shopping centre.

Miss Muir said some time later her mother tried to ring her, but her daughter’s phone was switched off.

But a second phone, of which the mother knew nothing, was found in her bedroom containing more sexualised messages with the same man, discussing plans to meet.

Miss Muir said police were contacted and the girl was considered, “a high-risk missing person”.

By 7.35pm that day she was spotted at the roadside and when spoken to, she seemed anxious.

She told police said she had fallen over while running and walked into a lamppost, accounting for a bruised knee and marks on her coat.

The girl was taken to a police station where her mother was waiting.

Hirchfield was located not far away and when approached by police claimed to be, “Bob from Dublin”, and asked the way to a bus station.

He was challenged as to his true identity and arrested.

Miss Muir told the court the girl was spoken to by police that evening and the following day, and refused to give a statement, but from the messaging it was clear sexual contact was planned.

Read more: Sex offender from Chester-le-Street jailed for intimate liaison with underage girl in farm field

It also emerged that Hirchfield wanted her to return to Sheffield to stay the night with him, but she made excuses why she could not go, as her mother would be suspicious and she had a hospital appointment the following day.

Miss Muir said during their rendezvous Hirchfield had kissed the girl and touched her sexually, while he also performed a sex act on himself in her presence.

In a further message he asked if she would be waiting for him for four years for when he comes out of prison.

Hirchfield, of St Elizabeth Close, Sheffield, admitted engaging in sexual communication with a child, meeting a child following sexual grooming, engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, and sexual assault.

In a victim statement read to the court, the girl’s mother said she found it "heart-breaking" that her daughter could not talk about it with her and she felt it had affected her daughter’s previous “bubbly” personality.

Ian West, in mitigation, said the defendant, of previous good character, had a difficult upbringing and has had a harsh introduction to the world of “adult punishment” while on remand in custody for the last month.

Judge Ray Singh said despite being blocked from messaging the girl, in October, the defendant had not left it there and resumed communication, making “concerted attempts” to meet her, with the aim of having sexual contact.

Imposing a 26-month sentence in a young offenders’ institution, the judge also made Hirchfield subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and registration as a sex offender, both for ten years.

Keep up to date with all the latest news on our website, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

You can also follow our dedicated County Durham Facebook page for all the latest in the area by clicking here.

For all the top news updates from right across the region straight to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter here.

Have you got a story for us? Contact our newsdesk on newsdesk@nne.co.uk or contact 01325 505054