`

Accountant who thought he was talking to boys about sex is snared by paedophile hunters Guardians of the North

The case was heard at Newcastle Crown Court
The case was heard at Newcastle Crown Court

A senior accountant who thought he had been chatting to three separate children on a dating app had been duped by paedophile hunters.

Marc Keating had "highly sexual conversations" with three boys on Grindr, despite being told they were only 13 and 14 year olds.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 26-year-old, who has since been sacked from his firm for gross misconduct, asked one lad if he was a virgin and suggested to another they could "fool around".

Prosecutor Michael Bunch said: "The prosecution case is in a period of just over one week, from the end of May until early June (last year), he engaged in sexual conversation with three decoy profiles set up by an organisation known as Guardians of the North on dating app Grindr."

The court heard during the illegal conversations Keating had sent pictures which revealed his true identity and supplied his phone number.

Mr Bunch added: "The organisation carried out a search of his mobile phone number on Facebook and that brought up details about him.

"The images on his profile matched those that had been sent to the decoy.

"The police were contacted."

Keating, of Marwell Drive, Washington, admitted three offences of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

Miss recorder Margia Mostafa sentenced him to six months imprisonment, suspended for two years, with programme requirements and 120 hours unpaid work.

Keating must sign the sex offenders register and abide by a sexual harm prevention order for seven years.

The judge told him: "A member of Guardians of the North joined the dating website Grindr under three false names.

"His intention was to uncover those with sexual interest in children.

"You, following the break up of a relationship, also joined the same website, which was for those over 18.

"You engaged, in a period of just over a week, in three explicit conversations with three profiles of boys who you believed to be 13 and 14.

"I have seen those conversations, they are highly sexual conversations. They also talk about swapping photographs, engaging in sexual activity and possibly meeting."

The judge said Keating has never been in trouble before and had been qualified as a senior accountant, a role he hopes to go back to.

Nick Peacock, defending, said Keating is a vulnerable man who offended after a relationship break-up and has learned a "sharp lesson" by the court proceedings, which have been "hanging over him" for more than 15 months.

Mr Peacock said: "This is an environment which is completely alien to him.

"A custodial sentence would ruin him.

"He was a qualified accountant. He is going to struggle to get a job now.

"He had to tell his employer what had happened."