Stephen Bateman thought he was meeting an underage schoolgirl he had met on Facebook and been having online sex chat with.
But the 24-year-old had been snared by Dark Justice, who pose as teen girls online to expose men looking for sex with children.
But despite adding the ‘girl’ on Facebook and pleading guilty to attempted grooming a judge let him walk from court.
Judge Amanda Rippon handed him a suspended sentence – because of his immaturity, vulnerability and low intellect.
Bateman was snared when Dark Justice turned up to meet him – with the police in tow – at the landmark Millennium Bridge in Newcastle in February.
Bateman initially claimed he was in the area just to see the seaside quayside, a patch of walkway the council converts into a makeshift beach each year.
Prosecutor Emma Downing said: “He said his only intention was to look at the
Quayside beach and denied sexual motivation.
“He said they were only going to chat.”
On the day he was due to stand trial at Newcastle Crown Court Bateman, of Eastfield House Walker, Newcastle, pleaded guilty to attempted grooming.
Prosecutors accepted his guilty plea on the basis he intended to “kiss and cuddle” with the girl but no further sexual activity.
Miss Downing told the court Bateman had sent the girl a friend request on Facebook and said it was a “random add”.
The conversation quickly turned sexual, despite Bateman being told almost immediately that she was only 13.
During one conversation Bateman was asked what he wanted at the meet up and he replied “kiss and cuddle”.
Judge Amanda Rippon told Bateman: “You must understand, this is a serious offence. You cannot engage in sexual conversation with children.
“You are lucky that this was not a 13-year-old who met you because the offences could have been a lot more serious.
“When you met your intention was to kiss and cuddle her and nothing more but if she had been 13 and a meeting had followed you may have gone further than that.”
Judge Rippon sentenced Bateman to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, with rehabilitation requirements and ten year sex offender registration.
The judge said Bateman’s lack of previous convictions, his immaturity, vulnerability and low intellectual capacity meant the jail term could be suspended.
Tom Moran, defending, said Bateman was gullible and insecure, not a predatory paedophile, which the judge accepted.