A MAN met a “vulnerable” underage girl after sending sexual messages to her over Facebook messenger.

Sean O’Brien sent the sexually explicit messages to the 15-year-old after she asked him for a lift.

Mr O’Brien, who was 19 at the time, later gave the girl a lift following the online exchange.

However, both told police officers that no sexual interaction had taken place.

Appearing at Southampton Crown Court on Thursday, O’Brien, now 21, was given a community order.

The court heard how O’Brien had originally met the teenager through a youth club.

Prosecutor Tim Moores said the girl messaged him asking for a lift in July 2017.

Mr Moores said O’Brien asked how old the girl was, prompting her to tell him she was 15.

He added that O’Brien later turned the conversation toward cannabis and sex.

The court heard the pair later agreed to meet.

Mr Moores said: “The messages suggested they did meet.

“It is right to say the messages suggest some sort of sexual activity may have happened, but both said it did not when spoken to by police.”

Mr Moores said the meeting came to light after messages were discovered on a tablet device at the girl’s home.

In mitigation, O’Brien’s defence barrister Gemma White said the incident had taken place more than two years ago, that her client had been out of trouble during that time and that he was now in a relationship with an “age appropriate partner".

O’Brien pleaded guilty to engaging in sexual communication with an underage girl.

In sentencing, Judge Christopher Parker QC, said: “This girl was plainly vulnerable to exploitation, that much must have been plain to you.

“When she contacted you by online message one of the first thing you did was to find out her age and she told you she was 15.

“Nonetheless, you engaged in what was undoubtedly sexually explicit messages with her.”

Judge Parker was also critical of the time it had taken to bring O’Brien’s case to court for sentence.

He said the defendant was not at fault for the delays.

Judge Parker said: “These offences took place over two years ago, for reasons not remotely clear to me it has taken this this long to come to court for sentence, but I’m satisfied that cannot be laid at your door.”

Judge Parker said the gap in the time since the offence, and the fact that O’Brien had not reoffended, meant it was unnecessary to impose a sexual harm prevention order.

He sentenced O’Brien, of Lowry Gardens, Southampton, to a two year long community order, with 150 hours of unpaid work and 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days.