The consequences have been huge for a man in his 60s, of previous good character, after chatting online with what he believed to be a 13-year-old girl.

In what Durham Crown Court heard was, “a huge fall from grace”, John Hudson has lost his marriage, home, employment and now his previous lifelong liberty.

Hudson thought he was communicating with a girl, ‘Ella’, but, in fact, it was a decoy profile posted by an online child safety group.

The court heard the initial contact was made on June 13, when the defendant gave his true age, then, of 63, and at the very early stages ‘Ella’ told him she was 13.

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Initial messages from the defendant were said to be about school and subjects appropriate for a 13-year-old.

But Martin Towers, prosecuting, said after about three weeks' interaction, the defendant made the conversation increasingly more sexual.

The Northern Echo: John Hudson was trapped by online chat with decoy profile of 'girl' posted by paedophile hunters

He sent more than one image of his genitals and discussed various sexual conduct, also filming himself performing a sex act, which he sent to ‘Ella’.

Mr Towers said the witness operating the fake profile eventually contacted a local group which seeks out internet paedophiles.

Some of its members visited Hudson at his home in Horden, confronting him early on July 15.

He initially denied the allegations, but he was told there was a recording of his conversations and the group also had the footage he had sent to the ‘girl’.

Police were called and Hudson was arrested.

At his first crown court appearance, the now 64-year-old defendant, of Alder Road, Horden, admitted attempting to incite a girl, 13, to engage in sexual activity and engaging in sexual communication with a child.

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Ian Mullarkey, in mitigation, said having been confronted and arrested the consequences have been immense for a man of the defendant’s age, previously unconvicted, as it had led to the breakdown of his marriage of 30 years and he has “effectively” lost the family home.

“He’s gone from being a man approaching retirement with a settled family existence to being no longer employed doing the productive work he was.

“It’s been a tremendous fall from grace.”

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Judge James Adkin said the culpability in the case was the grooming behaviour and the apparent huge disparity in ages, even though the reality was that the girl did not exist.

He said the guidelines these days only allow for a little leeway in such cases where there is no actual victim.

Imposing a 32-month sentence, the judge also made Hudson subject of restrictions under a Sexual Harm Prevention Order, for 20 years, plus the requirement to register as a sex offender indefitinitely.