A BASINGSTOKE father-of-three who encouraged a police decoy he thought was a 14-year-old girl to perform a sex act on herself has avoided going to prison.

Dennis Moore, of Tiverton Road, asked the girl, who was actually an undercover police officer, to undress for him, telling her she was "kissable" before asking her to masturbate.

The 53-year-old started chatting to the decoy on a forum called Teen Chat, designed for 13 to 19-year-olds, after his divorce left him depressed and ‘in a dark place’.

On Friday, July 16, Oliver Kelham, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court how on October 9, 2019, an undercover police officer known as ‘J’ was instructed to log into the teen chat room, and began speaking to Moore who thought they were a 14-year-old girl.

He asked the girl to undress for him, told her she was ‘kissable’, and asked her to masturbate.

Police arrested him on February 29 2020 at his home address, where a laptop and handwritten notes were also recovered, and three indecent images of young children were found on the device.

George Threlfall, defending said that the offending was “completely out of character”, as his client has never before been in front of a court for any matter.

“He tells me he has not used a computer since, he was so shocked and concerned because the three category three images he does not even recall having seen,” he said.

Mr Threlfall continued: “He made full admission in interview. He was in a low point in his life after just being through a divorce after 13 years of marriage, in consequence of which he was suffering with depression.

“As he told the police right at the outset, he initially started visiting chatrooms for mature or older women, and found it hard to get replies from them. I suggest probably because they are less confident with social media.”

He added that Moore had no intention of ever meeting with the girl and did not suggest meeting, but saw it as “a fantasy”.

“Interestingly, he had tried dating sites but they had not worked for him, and when I asked him why he said he simply didn’t have the skills to upload a picture or type a profile, and so entering a chat room was an easier option.”

Moore is currently suspended from his employment, which he has been at for 25 years.

“He accepts he did nothing to check the ages of the people he was talking to, but he always told the people his real age,” said Mr Threfall, adding: “He is clearly extraordinarily ashamed of himself for doing this.

“It is completely out of character and only happened because he was very very unhappy following his divorce and was in a very dark and bad place. This is a man who, in my submission, is deserving of some mercy.”

Appealing to the judge, he said: “It would be disproportionate to send this man, in my submission, immediately into custody for what has happened here.

“It is accepted that there are offences that could cross the custody threshold but I assess him as suitable for being dealt with in the community.”

Recorder Power enquired as to why a Sexual Harm Prevention Order (SHPO) had not been requested by the Crown Prosecution Service, adding: “It seems to me that this is a case that would require [an SHPO], bearing in mind that it is an internet-based allegation.”

The judge allowed seven days for an application to be made, but handed Moore an 18-month sentence suspended for two years, as well as 30 rehabilitation activity days, 120 hours of unpaid work and £425 in costs.

“In my view, this case does pass the custody threshold, but balancing all the aggravating and mitigating factors there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation here,” she said.