A MARRIED employee of Chester Zoo has been jailed for a year after he admitted attempting to groom girls aged 12 and 13 online.

Craig Austyn Warr, 41, sent “disgusting” messages and videos of himself masturbating to four girls on Kik Messenger between May and October this year.

But what he didn’t know was that his intended victims were actually police officers from three different forces working on an undercover operation.

Warr, of Flag Lane North, Upton, was arrested and made full admissions in his police interview, saying he was “lonely and didn’t have many friends”.

Chester Crown Court heard today (Friday, November 2) that he was a married man who had been abused as a child and had been going through a “loveless patch” this year.

He has now been sacked from his job at Chester Zoo where he worked in food and estates management for three years.

Chester and District Standard:

Warr contacted the girls through the social media platform Kik using a number of false profile names, including Jay Write, Jaywrite1, Boredjay, Moonstar (DayandNight1066) and Jay Jay.

Sentencing him, Judge Patrick Thompson said: “I’ve seen the messages that you sent to what you thought was a 12-year-old girl. They are graphic and of an extreme sexual nature. The idea that it was a 12-year-old girl receiving them makes those messages utterly disgusting.

“Why on earth you thought it was appropriate to send someone you thought was a child a video of yourself masturbating is very concerning indeed. It shows you had, and may well have, a very unhealthy sexual interest in children.”

Outlining the case, prosecutor Chris Taylor said the nature of Warr’s offending was “simple but very disturbing”.

“This defendant thought he was making contact with young girls but in fact was making contact with four undercover police officers across three forces,” he said.

He said the level of police resource required was a “sad reflection” of how widespread online grooming offences had now become.

Warr contacted four fake girls – one for a period of more than three months – with “relentless sexualised chat”. He was then traced, arrested and interviewed by officers.

“He fully accepted his behaviour to officers,” Mr Taylor said. “He described himself as being lonely and not having many friends.”

Defending, Paul Darnborough stressed his client had pleaded guilty to all eight offences – four of attempting sexualised conversation with a child and four of attempting to cause a child to watch sexual activity.

He said Warr was a married working man who had met his wife, a veterinary nurse, 11 years ago through their mutual interest in animals.

Mr Darnborough suggested that being abused as a child may have triggered the offending, at a time when the defendant was “experiencing a loveless patch in his marriage”.

“He became caught up in it,” the lawyer said. “But he is now full of remorse. He is appalled at his behaviour.”

It was suggested that the inevitable prison sentence could be suspended, but the judge said the offences were too serious.

Chester and District Standard:

Judge Patrick Thompson described Warr's offending as 'disgusting'.

Judge Thompson told Warr: “Children must be protected by the courts, particularly these days from men on the internet who seek to groom and sexually abuse children.”

Warr will spend half of his sentence in custody and half in the community on licence. He must sign on the sex offenders register for 10 years and was made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order (SHPO) for the same duration.

* After the hearing Detective Constable Andy Kent, of Cheshire's Paedophile and Cyber Investigation Team, said: “Warr’s conviction is a damning indictment of the level and volume of predatory behaviour he demonstrated towards children.

“Throughout this investigation it has been clear that Warr’s aim was to engage with girls, no matter how old they were, for sexual purposes.

“In each case Warr was well aware of the age of the girls he believed he was communicating with, yet he still sent them sexually explicit videos and images of himself in order to fulfil his own sexual gratification.

“It is quite simply remarkable that Warr was caught in the act by three separate law enforcement agencies at the same time.

“I would like to thank my colleagues at the South West, West Midlands and Eastern Regional Organised Crime Units.

“Due to their dedication and commitment, along with the work of the team here at Cheshire Police, Warr is now behind bars and will no longer be able to abuse children.”

DC Kent added: “This case highlights the dangers of social media and chat websites, demonstrating that people may not be who they claim be.

“I also hope that it acts as a reminder for all parents and guardians to warn their children of the dangers of communicating with people online and via social media, to check that they are using those things safely and to keep an eye out for any warning signs of sexual exploitation.”

For advice on identifying signs of sexual exploitation visit www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-sexual-exploitation/signs-symptoms-and-effects.

To report a sexual offence call Cheshire Police on 101. Information can also be given online at https://cheshire.police.uk/contact/general-enquiries or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.