AN UNDERCOVER police officer posed as an 11-year-old girl on a chat room app to snare a paedophile, a court has heard.

Officers launched a covert sting after becoming concerned over the use of Chat Avenue, which hosts a series of ‘chats’ for a range of ages and demographics.

An officer began speaking to Joshua Churchill, of Tuckton Road in Bournemouth, on one of the available chat rooms.

Churchill, 25, believed he was speaking to a child called Abbey.

He sent ‘her’ graphic photographs of himself and suggested the pair meet up.

On Friday, a judge sitting at Bournemouth Crown Court decided to spare Churchill a prison sentence after hearing the defendant is unlikely to reoffend and considers his behaviour to be “disgusting”.

Tom Wright, prosecuting, said: “He befriended ‘Abbey’ and they began to exchange flirtatious messages which very quickly became overtly sexual.

“They conversed via the app and then over Skype within a few days.”

Churchill “described sexual matters” and arrangements were made for the two to meet.

However, the defendant later backed out of the plan, telling ‘Abbey’ he had car trouble.

Kevin Hill, mitigating, said Churchill has called the offences “disgusting”.

Probation officers found his remorse “candid and credible”, Mr Hill said.

“He wants help to address the issues he accepts he has,” the barrister said.

“He did intend to meet [Abbey] in time but he backed away from it when the reality of it became possible.

“It supports the contention that this was more fantasy than reality for him.”

Churchill admitted arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence, attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, making indecent images and possessing an extreme pornographic image.

Judge Ben Compton QC told the defendant: “I accept that you have shown genuine remorse.

“It doesn’t often happen in these cases.”

Sentencing Churchill to two years in prison, suspended for two years, as well as a requirement to attend a sex offenders’ programme, the judge said: “It beggars belief how children are used in this world – the callousness of it.”

The defendant replied: “I know. What I did was disgusting.”

Churchill will also be subject to the requirements of a sexual harm prevention order for a decade.

The order includes a stringent list of prohibitions, including that Churchill register with the police for the duration.