A man who believed he was exchanging sexualised messages with two 13-year-old girls, fell foul of simultaneous online “stings” by two sets of paedophile hunters.

Gareth Rountree made contact with "decoy" accounts posted by groups known as Innocent Voices and the Spartan Child Protection Team, using the names ‘Megan’ and ‘Lucy’, in February this year.

Durham Crown Court was told Rountree used an account in the name of David Shepherd to make contact with both ‘girls’, between February 11 and 26.

In each case, he was soon informed they were aged 13 and school girls, but it did not deter him from asking them if they wanted to see images of his private parts and duly doing so, while committing a sex act upon himself.

Read more: County Durham man caught out by paedophile hunters after sending explicit messages

Shaun Dryden, prosecuting, said Rountree also asked each of them if they could send him intimate images of themselves, asking one if he could go out with her, telling her he loved her.

Mr Dryden said members of the Spartan team traced Rountree to an address in the Peterlee area and confronted him on his doorstep.

Police were informed and seized a phone from Rountree, who admitted having spoken to upwards of ten girls online.

Mr Dryden said, “of concern”, in a search of his home, police recovered items of children’s clothing plus toys, all still with their sale tags attached, and found an image of him with an unknown child.

Officers also found that he had multiple computer files which they were unable to access.

Rountree initially claimed he was watching the activities of hunter groups on social media and had been talking to them, but said he had taken it, “too far”.

But, Mr Dryden said when further questioned, he, “effectively”, gave “no comment” replies.

Read more: Man, 33, fell for paedophile hunters' online sting

Rountree, 37, of South Crescent, Horden, admitted two counts of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

The court was told he has a previous caution for sexual assault on a female child, aged under 16, in 2011.

Jane Waugh, for Rountree, said psychological and psychiatric reports confirmed he has both low educational ability and IQ, and has mental health needs which were suitable to be addressed in the community.

Miss Waugh said it was stated that he found it easier to communicate with members of the opposite sex online, but he knows his behaviour in this case was, “inappropriate”.

She added that the defendant, who has been in custody awaiting sentence, was worried about returning to his home address in fear of vigilante attacks.

Judge Jo Kidd said despite the findings of the two medical reports, Rountree was “sophisticated” enough to use a false profile on social media.

“I have read the conversations you were involved with online and it’s clear you were making advances and initiating sexual conversation, inviting the ‘girls’ to send photos of themselves.”

Judge Kidd added that she felt Rountree had also not been entirely open about his offending with the medical professionals who compiled the reports or with the Probation Service.

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She said Rountree would have received a 15-month prison sentence, but for his prompt guilty pleas at court, and allowed him one-third discount on sentence for those early admissions.

But she said the resulting ten-month sentence would be served immediately, and she made Rountree subject of future restrictions and prohibitions over internet use and contact with under-16s, under the terms of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, which will run for ten years.

He must also register as a sex offender, again, for ten years.