A SEX offender who sent a sexually explicit video of himself to what he thought was a child has been spared jail.

Malcolm Barnard was snared by two paedophile hunters online who were posing as 13 and 14-year-old girls. The 49-year-old, of Leigh, was handed a six-month prison sentence suspended for two years at Basildon Crown Court yesterday.

He admitted attempting to incite a 14-year-old girl to engage in sexual activity and attempting to cause a 14-year-old girl to watch sexual activity.

The court heard how in February, he made contact with two profiles on social media he thought belonged to teen girls.

They were actually decoy accounts set up by paedophile hunters Secret Whispers UK who regularly snare sex offenders on the net.

Prosecuting, Andrew Jackson QC told the court both girls immediately told Barnard their ages during conversation.

Describing his contact with the 13-year-old, Mr Jackson said: “The conversations became increasingly sexualised. He then volunteered he wasn’t wearing any pants and his zip might come undone.

“He then started sending photographs firstly of himself wearing trousers and then of himself with his hand in his shorts and then of himself exposed.”

Mr Jackson went on to say that immediately after sending them, he told “Rebecca” the conversation had to “be their secret”.

Five days later, Barnard who now lives in Crostwick, Norfolk, began messaging another decoy called “Holly” he believed was 14.

Mr Jackson said: “Within a few minutes, he was talking about pleasuring himself and then began sending photos of himself exposed.”

The court heard Barnard then sent explicit instructions telling “Holly” how she could pleasure herself before sending her a video which showed him doing the same.

The decoys tracked Barnard to a car park on Canvey where he was confronted and admitted what he had done.

Sentencing, Judge Samantha Cohen said: “Offending of this kind when there are real children is all too prevalent and causes serious harm.

"Although there were no real children, it cannot be said there was no harm because the women speaking to you must have felt stress and anger at your behaviour.”

Barnard must sign the sex offenders’ register for ten years and will be subject to strict conditions which limit his access to computers and contact with children.

He must pay £740 in costs.