A BASINGSTOKE man has avoided jail after he asked what he thought a 12-year-old boy to send indecent images - but he was actually talking to a police officer. 

Paul Berns, of Alencon Link, sent indecent images and also asked the ‘boy’ to send indecent images.

He was communicating through an adult website and via Snapchat from February 11, 2022, to May 23, 2022.

Berns asked the boy to masturbate on April 28, 2022.

The 58-year-old was sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Friday, November 3.

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Prosecuting, Ellie Sheahan said Berns sent images of his groin area wearing different types of underwear.

In mitigation, Chloe Jay said Berns has been leading an isolated life which led him to adult websites.

She said: “He worked long hours as a HGV driver. He only has a couple of friends and he hasn’t told anyone about his sexual orientation.

"At 58, he was feeling quite alone and turning to these online conversations to seek human connection. He accepts the nature of these conversations.

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“He was arrested in August last year and missed work for three days. He says this was his worst moment of his entire life. He wants me to convey to the court his utter shame and regret about what has happened. He says he has been in the gutter for the last 15 months.

“He is very much keen to work on his sex offender treatment programme.”

Sentencing, Recorder Gordon Bebb gave credit to Berns for pleading guilty at the first opportunity. He admitted a charge of attempting to cause/incite a boy under 13 to engage in sexual activity.

He told Berns: “Your charges are framed as attempts because it was an undercover operation. The child did not exist. But you believed the child did exist.

“You have no relevant previous conviction and you have shown remorse. So I take these actions and mitigating features to discount your punishment to 14 months imprisonment.

“These are so serious that only a custodial sentence would be appropriate. But I have taken the views of opportunity for rehabilitation. So I suspend your sentence for two years.”

Berns has to undertake 35 rehabilitation days, 100 hours of unpaid work. He has to pay £425 as court cost, and £1,000 financial penalty.

The court also issued a sexual harm prevention order against him for 10 years.