A PERVERT dad who exposed himself to young girls at swimming pools in Chester and Ellesmere Port has been jailed for a year.

Derek Robert O'Neill, 40, flashed his penis at a total of 10 girls aged between 10 and 12 while visiting leisure centres with his own child over a two-year period.

On one occasion the former armed forces serviceman was even seen pleasuring himself underwater with one hand as he held the hand of his young son with the other.

A dozen parents and relatives of the youngsters packed into the public gallery at Chester Crown Court today for the sentencing hearing.

There was delight as Judge Nicholas Woodward refused to suspend the 12-month prison sentence and made O'Neill the subject of a decade-long Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO).

Under the terms of the order, father-of-two O'Neill must give police 48 hours advanced warning of a visit to a public swimming pool so staff can be warned of the potential threat he poses.

The defendant, who has no history of sexual offences, was told he might also be banned from working with children or vulnerable groups by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The court heard he had served in the armed forces but had also been employed by Airbus and more recently Costa Coffee, which had now dismissed him.

A trial had been listed for June but O'Neill changed his plea to guilty in relation to five counts of committing an act outraging public decency.

Jailing him, the judge said: “It is an aggravating feature that you were using your own son as a cover for your activities.”

He added: “Sports leisure centres are popular resources to the local community and it's important that children and their parents not only are safe but have the confidence to feel safe in such an environment.”

Outlining the case, prosecutor James Coutts told the court the 10 victims had been playing in pools at the Northgate Arena in Chester or the Sports Village and former EPIC facilities in Ellesmere Port.

All had noticed O'Neill staring at them and following them around the pool on different occasions between 2015 and 2017.

When they went under water - for example as part of 'handstand' games - they would notice the defendant's penis poking out the top of his trunks while he pleasured himself.

In each case the children told parents who raised their concern with the centre managers. O'Neill was spoken to by police on one occasion before his arrest and also by staff.

He was arrested on January 15, 2017, a day after his final offence, which took place at the Northgate Arena. The majority of the girls were then able to pick him out in an identification parade.

Mr Coutts read victim impact statements from the girls' parents to the court, all of whom described how they had lost confidence in public facilities, had become over-protective and were concerned about the impact the incidents had had on their children.

One father said he struggled to comprehend the “disgusting abuse of trust” displayed by a parent who took his own son to a pool in order to achieve sexual gratification.

And a mother said: “It makes me sick to the stomach that I was at the pool while it was going on and I didn't suspect a thing. Guilt too that I was powerless and couldn't stop it happening.”

In their own statements, some of the girls described how they had become anxious about visiting pools and had been put off swimming.

Maria Masselis, defending, read a letter to the court on behalf of O'Neill in which he apologised for his actions and the distress he had caused the girls and their families.

He wrote: “I can only say it was out of character and fell far below my own standards of decency and behaviour.

”I'm disgusted with myself and enormously embarrassed by my actions.”

Sitting in the dock, O'Neill broke down as Miss Masselis offered mitigation on his behalf, stressing his remorse and the fact that he had now lost his partner and contact with his two children.

“He is remorseful,” she said. “He has gone as far as to say in his pre-sentence report that he's disgusted with himself.

“He is not able to explain why he behaved in this way and why it was repeated.”

O'Neill, of Brassey Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, is now taking medication after being diagnosed with depression and anxiety, Miss Masselis added.