A PAEDOPHILE caught sexually messaging an 11-year-old girl was released by police only to be caught offending again when he was snared trying to meet what he thought was a underage teen.

Martyn Dunn, 27, was arrested when the 11-year-old's mother discover the sexually explicit messages on the girl's phone.

But after collecting the messages as evidence, and having conducted a police interview, officers released Dunn under investigation for more than a year.

In the meantime, Dunn arranged to meet what he thought was a 14-year-old schoolgirl after graphic conversation about sex.

But the online profile was actually operated by a paedophile hunter group, who handed him into the police.

While sentencing Dunn to a 10 month prison sentence, a judge hit out at Hampshire Police's decision to release him after he was caught the first time.

Judge Peter Henry said: "You committed the second offence while being investigated by the police and released.

"I question why you were not charged when interviewed in Summer 2018. I have absolutely no idea why when police had all the evidence they subsequently used.

"You should have been charged then, whether that would have prevented the second offence I cannot say. But you must have been well aware that it was against the law to contact child, but you went ahead and did it."

Police have since defended the decision, claiming an early charge was "not appropriate" in Dunn's case.

A spokesperson for Hampshire Police said: "In order to ensure a fair and thorough prosecution, investigating officers must collect all available material - whether it points towards a suspect or away. This also allows for fair disclosure the defence.

"It is only once all reasonable lines of enquiry have been completed that a case can be presented. This can then be done so in the knowledge there is no material which would otherwise undermine the case.

"Whether any such material exists is not always known at the point of interview and the bar for considering an early charge, with enquiries left to complete, is rightly set high."

Southampton Crown Court heard how Dunn was arrested in April 2018 after exchanging sexual messages with an 11-year-old girl – which were later found by the child's mother.

The court heard he was later caught messaging what he thought was a 14-year-old in January 2019.

But it was actually a fake profile, named Emily, which was being run by paedophile hunter group TRAP.

Prosecutor Simon Foster told the court that after weeks of messaging, Dunn agreed to travel more than 60 miles from Southampton to Weymouth in order to meet the girl in June last year.

He was later arrested and charged with both offences.

In mitigation, John Dyer said Dunn suffered from autism and his messages with the girls were "naive".

He said: "When talking to Emily they talk about Weymouth and his reply is that there are nice buses there.

"He also sent a message in which he said he needed to go for a pee now and asked if she liked trains."

Mr Dyer added that Dunn was facing eviction from his supported living accommodation, provided by Autism Hampshire, in Chessel Avenue, Southampton.

Dunn, who pleaded guilty to one count of sexual communication with a child and one count of attempting to meet an underage girl after grooming.

He was sentenced to 10 months in prison, given a 10 year sexual harm prevention order, barred from working with children and made the subject of notification requirements for 10 years.