A Knebworth paedophile has been caught by an undercover police officer, who pretended to be a 13-year-old girl.

In June last year (2021), Andrew Stonehouse contacted a fictitious girl called “Abbi” on the online KIK messaging service.

The 13-year-old's account had been set up by the police, in order for them to find individuals who posed a risk to children online.

Prosecutor Sharn Mardner told St Albans Crown Court today (Monday): “He said he was 53. She identified herself as a 13-year-old girl.

“He asked her for photos. She didn’t send any, but he sent photos of his genitalia.

“He said sexual things and said she should keep it a secret because she was too young.”

Stonehouse also sent sexually explicit messages to "Abbi" and said he would be gentle with her if they met for sex.

The man was later arrested at his Knebworth home, when he apologised.

After stating that he was "embarrassed and ashamed", he told officers that he was on his own, depressed and lonely.

Stonehouse pleaded guilty to four charges of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, and one of attempting to get a child to watch an act of sexual activity.

Today, the 54-year-old was handed a six-month jail sentence suspended for 18 months.

The man must also attend 20 rehabilitation days and pay £500 in costs.

He must also abide by the terms of a sexual harm prevention order, and be placed on the sex offenders register for seven years.

Judge Richard Foster said: “Those messages from a man of your age contacting a girl you thought was 13 make sick reading.

“Had you been attempting to engage in sexual activity with a child, you would be facing an immediate custodial sentence.

“You have been charged with the lesser offence of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

“Your actions were despicable and had they been carried through would be very serious.

"You did not meet her.

"You were arrested at home based on the material the police had through the electronic communications.”