A SEX offender caught by online paedophile hunters was spared an immediate jail term because he suffers from cerebral palsy.

Anthony Albert Witts gets around with the aid of a walker and had to be helped into the dock at Southampton Crown Court.

Witts, 63, of Mansel Road East, Southampton, thought he was in contact with two 13-year-old girls.

But it was a sting carried out by members of a group set up with the aim of flushing out adults who try to groom children online.

Witts, who had no previous convictions, admitted attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child in 2021 and engaging in sexual communication with a child in 2022.

Keely Harvey, prosecuting, said Witts sent naked and semi-naked pictures of himself to the people he thought were girls.

The first crime came to light after adult decoys identified and then confronted the defendant. He was arrested by the police and gave a no-comment interview but uttered the words: "I did not even realise."

The defendant was released under investigation and went on to commit the second offence.

Thinking he was in contact with another 13-year-old girl he told her not to be shy and said their contact should remain a secret.

Chris Gaiger, mitigating, said the defendant accepted he had been stupid - not just once but twice.

He added: "He can't give any explanation as to why he engaged in such behaviour again. He should have learned from the first time."

Judge Christopher Parker KC told Witts: "You plainly had a deviant sexual interest in children.

"You attempted to communicate with a 13-year-old girl, not knowing she was a decoy set up by vigilante paedophile hunters.

"When you were being investigated for that you did the same thing again with another supposedly 13-year-old."

Witts was handed a 22-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and was also made the subject of a ten-year sexual harm prevention order.

Judge Parker told him: "If it were not for the fact you have cerebral palsy, there is no question you would have immediately been sent downstairs to custody.

"It's difficult to fathom how you could have been so stupid. Had these been real children, the damage caused by you cannot be estimated."

Judge Parker said Witts would go straight to prison if he committed another offence, adding: "Be in no doubt, if I see you again there's no way out."