A MAN who sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl he arranged to meet in Basingstoke has been put behind bars.

Gary Cooper, 47, from Hertford, contacted his victim five days earlier via an online chat room and groomed her by posing as a teenage girl.

A police investigation uncovered a series of offences against the 12-year-old and another girl, to which Cooper pleaded guilty.

He was today jailed for 14 years and four months by a judge at Winchester Crown Court.

Detective Inspector Dave Storey from Hampshire Constabulary’s Major Investigation team said: “Gary Cooper (also known as Carrie Cooper) has been convicted of some very serious sexual assaults against children. The most serious involved a sequence of events in which Cooper used an on-line social network site to sexually groom and subsequently rape a 12-year-old girl.

“Cooper fabricated a profile in which he purported to be a 15-year-old girl and began to communicate with her. He arranged to meet her and on the evening of July 15, 2011, took her from Hampshire via Essex to Hertfordshire where he raped her. “The initial report of this incident was treated as a child abduction in which three police forces mobilised resources to establish her whereabouts. The girl was located by Hertfordshire Constabulary on the morning of July 16, 2011, but she had already been subjected to a very serious sexual assault.

“Cooper was charged and further investigation identified another vulnerable 15-year-old girl with whom he had had sex. He has been convicted of multiple offences of sexual activity against a child regarding this and the taking and making of indecent photographs of a child.

“This incident highlights the ease with which online paedophiles can use social networking sites to communicate with children and parents should be mindful of whom their children are communicating with and any arrangements that are made following contact.”

Cooper, 47, of Windsor Drive, Hertford, pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court on September 27, 2011, to the grooming and rape of a 12-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty at St Albans Crown Court on October 1, 2012, to the offences relating to the 15-year-old girl.