A JUDGE has said prison overcrowding meant she was unable to jail a convicted sex offender who messaged decoy accounts he believed to be underage girls.

Her Honour Judge Loram told the defendant Chris Luff he “exploited and thrived” on children who he believed were “wholly sexually innocent”.

But she explained the pressure on the prison system contributed to her decision to suspend Luff’s sentence.

She said: “I have to consider the reality here – given the sentence is 21 months, I have to consider how much time you would actually spend in prison given the pressure on the prison system.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Targeted – Chris Luff targeted underage girls as part of his offendingTargeted – Chris Luff targeted underage girls as part of his offending (Image: Newsquest)

“In your case, it would be a truly unpleasant experience.”

The court heard how Luff, of Everest Way, Maldon, sent friend request to several Facebook profiles believing them to be girls aged 11, 12, and 13.

The accounts were in fact run by members of a paedophile vigilante group.

When Luff started conversations with the accounts, he asked sexual questions even though it was “abundantly clear” the people he thought he was messaging were under 16 years old, the prosecution said.

The offending, which took place in April and May 2022, continued over several weeks and involved Luff telling one profile “I want to take your virginity”.

The vigilante group then informed the police of Luff’s offending, and he was arrested in May 2022.

But only months later, Luff was found to be messaging an underage girl, this time over WhatsApp.

In one conversation, Luff even mentioned how “he had got into s*** and got arrested for talking to girls” which meant he was unable to see his sister’s baby.

Judge Loram told Luff she “did not believe for a minute” his excuses for messaging the accounts.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Persuaded – Judge Loram said she had been persuaded not to send Luff to prisonPersuaded – Judge Loram said she had been persuaded not to send Luff to prison (Image: Newsquest)

She said: “You constantly tried to downplay what you did and I sense no real acceptance of or responsibility for what you have done.

“Accidentally’ finding a number on What’s App… I do not accept that for a minute."

Luff, 35, was sentenced to 21 months in jail suspended for 24 months, was ordered to pay £350 in costs, and will sign the sex offenders' register for ten years.

Judge Loram concluded: “Many would argue I should have sent you to prison today.

“I have just about been persuaded this is in the longer-term interests of the public in general.”