A FORMER coach driver was caught in a paedophile hunter sting after attempting to meet what he thought was an underage girl in a supermarket car park.

Andrew Portelli sent inappropriate messages to a member of an online paedophile hunter group, who was posing as a 14-year-old girl.

He sent messages inviting the girl to shower with him before arranging a meeting at an Aldi car park in Southampton.

But when the 49-year-old arrived, he was confronted by the paedophile hunters behind the fake profile.

Portelli was given a suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to sending inappropriate messages to an underage girl.

Southampton Crown Court was told how Portelli first came across the profile, named ‘Phoebe’ on an online dating website.

They exchanged messages, and by the tenth message, Portelli was told that the girl was 14.

Operatives from SKID, who were behind the fake profile, continued to exchange messages with Portelli.

Prosecuting, Martyn Booth said the majority of the messages were “benign”, until Portelli said he was going to take a shower and invited her to join him.

Mr Booth said Portelli later arranged a meeting in the car-park of Aldi in Portswood, where members of SKID apprehended Portelli.

He added that Portelli was not charged with the more serious offence of meeting a child after grooming, following a decision by a reviewing lawyer, due to the evidence provided.

In mitigation, Gemma White said Portelli’s actions fell at the lower end of the scale for an offence of this type.

She said Portelli, a former coach driver in Southampton, was “essentially” a man of good character.

Ms White said he had one conviction related to providing false readings on tachograph machines – used to monitor a driver’s time behind the wheel.

She added that Portelli was currently unemployed, receiving universal credit and was sleeping in his car.

Sentencing him to a six-month suspended prison term, Judge Nicholas Rowland accepted submissions from both the prosecution and defence that the messages were not as serious as other similar cases.

He added: “There is no offence included of meeting a child after sexual grooming, but it seems to me an aggravating feature in this case.

“I cannot ignore the fact you did intent to meet the 14-year-old, following what has been described as ‘flirtatious’ messages.”

Portelli was also made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order and made to sign the sex offenders register, both for seven years.

He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.