An online groomer has been jailed after being tricked by a paedophile hunter who was posing as a 13-year-old girl.

Gary Lewis was depressed and lonely when he contacted a woman on an adult dating site without realising it was a fake profile which had been set up as a trap. The decoy then told him she was actually only 13 but he carried on the conversation.

Lewis broke off the sex chats for a while but resumed them on his birthday just before Christmas last year because he had received no seasonal greetings and was feeling anxious, depressed and isolated.

He went on to suggest that the decoy, who was using the false identity of a girl called Charlotte, should perform a sex act on herself.

It led to him being confronted in the street by a group of paedophile hunters who spent 40 minutes humiliating him while screening the footage live to their supporters. His ordeal only ended when the police arrived.

Lewis, aged 48, of Manor Road, Camborne, denied attempting to inciting a child to sexual activity and attempted sexual communications with a child but was found guilty by a jury at Truro Crown Court last month.

He was jailed for three years by Judge Simon Carr, sitting at Exeter Crown Court, and ordered to sign on the sex offenders register for life. He was also made subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order which will allow the police to monitor his online activity after his release.

The judge told him: “At the time, you were living on your own and I accept you have mental health issues and a diagnosis of an unstable personality disorder, significant depression and a history of self-harm.

“That is the background but it is no excuse for what you did. A significant feature of this case is that the initial contact was through a site which requires users to be adults. You accept that many users use fake biogs and it is difficult to tell which is real.

“You moved the chat to WhatsApp at which point the illusion was gone and although it was an older person masquerading as a child, they made it clear repeatedly that you were communicating with a 13-year-old girl.

“The jury concluded that you could not reasonably have believed they were over 16. You continued over many weeks with numerous communications. I have no doubt you believed she was 13. You are 48 and a man of impeccable character.”

Mr Jason Beal, prosecuting, told the original trial that Lewis had sent messages over a considerable period of time leading up to one in which he invited the decoy Charlotte to touch herself sexually.

Lewis claimed at his trial what he knew he was talking to an adult decoy and went along with the chats in a game of cat and mouse.

Mr Piers Norsworthy, defending, said Lewis was suffering from serious mental health issues at the time and resumed the chats because he was lonely and isolated when he received no birthday of Christmas messages.

He said he had to undergo a gruelling experience at the hands of the paedophile hunting group when they confronted him and effectively detained him and that his ordeal only ended when the police arrived.