A man planned a sexual liaison with what he thought was a boy aged 14 within hours of making contact on a gay dating site, a court heard.

Richard Severs, 60, duly turned up at the rendezvous site, at the Dalton Park shopping centre near Murton, County Durham, but was greeted by police who had set up what was the fake profile of the ‘boy’.

Durham Crown Court heard that Severs was arrested as he was recognised by a picture of himself posted on the site, Grindr, and, when searched, he was found to be in possession of lubricant and a sex toy.

Police then went to his home address, near Northallerton, and seized a mobile phone and a laptop computer, from which five indecent images of children were found stored.

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Miss Khan said although the images could not be definitively dated, examination of the laptop revealed searches for such paedophilic material between June 2014 and December 2015.

When interviewed, Severs made “no comment” to police, but in a prepared statement confirmed he was responsible for the images on the laptop, for which he apologised.

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Severs said in the statement he realised the children featured on the images were “victims” and revealed he had sought help through a programme called Safer Lives to address his issues, while he had also sought therapy for depression and anxiety.

The court heard that the now 61-year-old defendant, of Harewood Close, Morton-on-Swale, has no previous convictions.

He admitted attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, arranging or facilitating a child sex offence, plus two counts of making indecent images of a child.

Miss Khan, said the attempted liaison with what he believed was a boy was made on August 15 last year, only hours after Severs first made contact with the profile, set up by an undercover police officer.

Requests were quickly made for the exchange of intimate pictures, with the meeting then planned and a discussion about intended sexual activity.

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Miss Khan said Severs requested that the ‘boy’ wore clean underwear.

Sean Smith, representing Severs, told the court the defendant has worked as a mental health care professional for some time.

Mr Smith confirmed the defendant has undertaken work to address his behaviour, having liaised with the Safer Lives course run by ex-Probation Officers, designed for people arrested and charged with this type of offence.

He has also worked with another group, which Mr Smith said demonstrated a further attempt at rehabilitation in the community.

Mr Smith said all this has been carried out in the year since the offending took place, during which the defendant has become, “something of a recluse”.

Imposing a 28-month prison sentence, Judge James Adkin told Severs that unaware he was actually communicating with an undercover police officer, he was soon planning sexual contact with a boy less than 15-years-old.

Judge Adkin said the guidelines now state there should be little discount on sentence for offenders falling foul of decoy profiles online.

Recognising the work undergone by the defendant to address his behaviour, Judge Adkin told him: “You are a man who has some insight of your offending, and who was of good character at the time, with a number of stressful issues you were trying to manage.

“I have heard of the depression from which you have suffered and I’m conscious of the impact a prison sentence will have on you.”

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The judge told Severs he will serve up to half of the 28 months behind bars before release on licence.

He will also be subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 20 years and registration as a sex offender, for life.

Judge Adkin also ordered forfeiture and confiscation of all the items and devices seized by police during the investigation.