A “LONER” groomed schoolgirls online by pretending his sister was dead in order to gain their sympathy, a court heard.

Gary Hunter, 27, from Ellesmere Port, pleaded guilty to four counts of inciting a girl under the age of 15 to engage in sexual activity.

Chester Crown Court heard he was a carer for his sister, who has mental health issues, but told his victims she had died and he needed “cheering up”.

Hunter was jailed for 32 months by Judge Simon Berkson, who told him: “You effectively groomed the girls you approached with sad, but wholly false, stories about yourself.

“I find it terribly sad that on one hand you are caring for your sister and on the other hand you are telling people she's dead and you're very upset.”

Hunter was made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO), aimed at protecting girls from harm, and must also sign on the sex offenders register for the rest of his life.

The court heard that the four charges were potentially the “tip of the iceberg” of Hunter's offending.

Myles Wilson, prosecuting, said the defendant's actions came to light after the mothers of two girls spotted what was happening.

On December 11, 2015, an 11-year-old girl received a 'friend request' from Hunter on Facebook.

Her mum, who monitored the account, asked her daughter if she knew him and then allowed a conversation to take place with the stranger.

Hunter told the girl his sister was dead and that he was crying as he had to attend her funeral in the morning.

He went on to compliment the girl, describing her as “lovely” and calling her “honey bunny” before asking her about the clothes she was wearing.

“She was a schoolgirl and he knew full well her age,” Mr Wilson added.

The girl's mother then contacted the police and passed on copies of the messages.

Just days later, on December 17, another girl aged 13 received a friend request from Hunter on the social media site.

“He says his sister died that week and can she cheer him up,” Mr Wilson said. “He calls her 'sunflower' and asks what she's wearing.”

The girl became upset and told her mother, who also contacted the police.

Hunter, of Hawthorn Road, Little Sutton, was arrested and interviewed by officers early the next year and admitted he had contacted the girls and was attracted to them.

He accepted he had initiated contact and pushed the girls to speak to him via video for his own sexual gratification.

Police examined his computer and traced many other potential victims, most of whom did not wish to co-operate. However, officers found two more complainants who were willing to speak out. Both were aged 15 at the time.

Hunter, of previous good character, had asked one of them to send him photos of her in her underwear and he also sent her pictures of his chest and penis.

Sarah Badrawy, defending, said Hunter had been bullied at secondary school and had low confidence and self-esteem.

“These offences were committed in the context of a lonely existence,” she said. “But these are not excuses.

“He admitted the offences during both the interviews with the police.

”He knows what he has done is wrong. He understands he must be punished.”