A SALTNEY man has avoided jail after he admitted having sexual conversations with what he believed to be a young girl.

Mark Payne, aged 42 and of High Street, appeared at Caernarfon Crown Court on Tuesday for sentencing.

He had previously admitted five offences; three of which related to his engagement with an individual online whom he believed to be a 13-year-old.

The other two related to images found on devices belonging to him.

Maria Masselis, prosecuting, told the court Payne had contacted the ‘girl’ via a social media app in April last year.

He was informed that the person he was talking to was 13 years of age, as the profile purported.

But Payne was in fact speaking to a police officer who was operating a decoy account.

Within a matter of hours he sent a completely unsolicited picture of his penis, telling the girl it something for her “to enjoy.”

He then asked for naked pictures in return - which was refused.

Payne went on to ask sexual questions, which led police to make enquiries.

Officers traced him and went to his address a few days later.

During the course of his arrest and a search of his property a phone, laptop and a USB storage device were taken for forensic examination.

He admitted having contacted the ‘girl’ but claimed he believed she was an adult and that he was “engaging in role play.”

On Payne’s phone, police recovered the image of himself which he’d sent via social media.

And on the laptop, books containing three indecent images of females aged 12 to 15 were found, as well as an indecent image of a female under the age of 18 performing a sex act.

When re-arrested and interviewed he admitted having downloaded the books, but told police he had no sexual interest in children.

Andrew Green, defending, said: “They are serious offences. Mercifully no real child was involved.

“At that time in the year, just after the beginning of the full lockdown, he was out of employment.

“That fact, that he was drinking heavily and his mental health, he feels, had declined substantially were all contributing factors to why he behaved how he did.

“But none of that excuses it.

“It is clear he is a man who needs to deal with the underlying problems which led him to commit these offences.

“His best mitigation are his guilty pleas and I submit they genuinely reflect his remorse.

“To find himself before the crown court facing sentence for these offences is an utter humiliation.”

Mr Recorder Duncan Bould told Payne: “In April you engaged with the person - within a single set of communications, but a very short space of time, you determined it was appropriate to turn that conversation into a sexual one.

“I am satisfied that you believed you were dealing with a young girl, even though you were not.

“You are a 42-year-old man, hitherto with no previous convictions and you have an excellent work record.

“I am satisfied that there is every prospect you can be rehabilitated without your immediate incarceration.”

Payne was handed an overall custodial sentence of six months - comprising sentences of four months, four months, six months and two months to run concurrently for counts one to four respectively. No separate penalty was imposed in respect of the fifth. The overall sentence was suspended for two years.

He must undertake a 60 day rehabilitation activity requirement and undertake 100 hours unpaid work in the community. He was also made the subject of a seven year sexual harm prevention order.