A MAN in his 40s believed he was exchanging intimate sexual messages with a girl aged 13, having made contact via an internet site ‘Teen Chat’, a court heard.

Lee Campbell had actually fallen for a decoy profile of ‘Sophia, 13’ posted by an undercover police officer in a bid to catch men with a paedophilic interest in young girls.

Durham Crown Court was told Campbell, then aged 42, claimed to be a 17-year-old male and posted an image of a topless teenage youth.

Although there was limited initial conversation, ‘Sophia’ made it clear to Campbell that she was only 13 and asked if he was “okay” with her age.

He said he was and in following days, in January last year, soon brought the conversation around to sexual matters, asking ‘Sophia’ what she might want to do with his penis, of which he sent her an image.

Chris Baker, prosecuting, said Campbell was encouraging his young correspondent to masturbate, asking what she was wearing and he suggested she should come to see him so she could perform a sex act on him.

Campbell also sent the ‘girl’ an image of himself naked, minus his head, but the conversation came to a halt on February 9, 2021, when he sent her a question: “Where are you?”

Although he made denials when initially interviewed, the defendant, now 44, of Esh Hillside, Langley Park, went on to admit attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, when he appeared at a previous plea hearing at the court.

Sentence was adjourned to allow for preparation of a background report on the defendant by the Probation Service.

Read more: Man fell for decoy profiles of girls posted by paedophile hunters

Jane Waugh, in mitigation, told the sentencing hearing that the only reason the defendant, who is of previous good character, did not plead guilty when the case first went before magistrates was because he was previously unfamiliar with the criminal justice system.

“According to the probation report he’s considered a ‘low risk’ of reoffending.

“In this case there was no real child involved, it was instigated by a police officer, and there was no attempt to meet up, and there could never have been.

“He could never have taken it any further and when the officer ended the conversation, the defendant’s last message was: ‘Where are you?’, but he didn’t keep messaging or badgering ‘Sophia’, and he left it there.”

Miss Waugh said it was more than five weeks after that last message that police contacted him, and in the intervening period he made no further attempt to make contact with ‘Sophia’.

She said the defendant has a “good work ethic” and told the court the offending exchanges took place when he was working away from home and, “reaching out for company”.

Miss Waugh added there was work he could do with the Probation Service to assist him and ensure he remains, “a useful member of society” and that this was a “one-off” salutary experience for him.

Judge Ray Singh told Campbell: “These are serious offences, despite the fact there was no real person.”

He said the defendant’s behaviour soon became more, “sexually deviant, morally unhealthy”, after the initial contact.

But he added that as Campbell has “never troubled the courts before, being of previous good character”, he was, “just about persuaded” to suspend the 24-month prison sentence for two years.

Judge Singh ordered Campbell to complete 30 rehabilitation activity days with the Probation Service and he must take part in a sexual offender group work programme for up to 90 days.

The defendant will also be subject to registration as a sex offender and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, both for ten years.

Judge Singh warned him if there were any breaches he would not be allowed, “a second chance.”

He made a deprivation order of the phone via which Campbell communicated with the decoy.

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