A PERVERT who sent indecent images to a person he thought was a 13-year-old girl but who was actually an American paedophile watchdog has been spared jail.

Instead of a teenage girl it turned out Gary Bradley, 53, was actually messaging a US Homeland Security officer through the Kick app.

Painter and decorator Bradley, of Chaney Road, Wivenhoe, sent a photograph of himself masturbating, engaged in sexual chat and asked the ‘girl’: “Have you taken any naughty pictures?”

Bradley admitted attempting to cause a child to look at a person engaging in sexual activity to obtain sexual gratification on 21 October last year.

Charlotte Davison, prosecuting at Chelmsford Crown Court, said: “He was using the profile ‘gazdec’ and admitted he was a 50-year-old from the UK.

"He sent her explicit images and photos of himself masturbating and encouraged the girl to send images of a similar nature to him.”

One picture showed his face and other images were matched to the background at his home when UK police went to went there.

Bradley was given a 14-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, with 180 hours’ unpaid work, a 40-day rehabilitation activity requirement and costs of £320.

Judge Emma Peters also imposed a sexual harm prevention order and ordered him to sign the sex offenders’ register for ten years.

She told him: “I am giving you a chance because you are a man so shamed by being caught that you will not do this again.

"Rightly you should hang your head in shame.

“It’s a common theme of the criminal courts that we see men who seek to meet up with young girls online and exchange sexual photos and sexualised chat and obtain sexual gratification from that kind of exchange.

“And it’s a common theme that the person is not a child but rather someone seeking to catch those behaving in this pernicious way.”

The court heard that Bradley did not have any indecent photographs of children and his conversation with the undercover officer was the only time he had used the app.

The judge was told Bradley had had medical problems which had affected his work capability and self-esteem and he had turned to drinking heavily and using cannabis.

Joanna Hardy, mitigating, said: “He has no excuse and nothing but shame.

"Loneliness and sitting at home on the internet came into it.”