A pensioner who tried to meet an 11-year-old girl for sex has been jailed after he was trapped by a police sting operation.

Richard Courage thought that a woman who he met in an online chat room was a child abuser with access to an 11-year-old girl. In reality, he was messaging an undercover police officer.

He sent a stream of messages fantasising about having sex with the girl which culminated in him booking a room at a hotel in East Devon where he planned to take her virginity.

He called off the rendezvous at the last minute, claiming to have Covid, but carried on his online messaging with the undercover officer.

He was traced through the hotel booking and found with a small number of child images on his computer when he was arrested. Police also recovered a dismantled shotgun in his car.

Retired businessman Courage, aged 75, from Exeter, admitted arranging or commissioning a child sex offence, possession of indecent images of children and possession of a firearm without a certificate.

He was jailed for three years and four months by Judge Anna Richardson at Exeter Crown Court, put on the sex offenders’ register for life and made subject of a sexual harm prevention order which restricts his future access to children and the internet.

She told him that the offence which he had tried to arrange was in effect a child rape but that he deserves credit for having no previous convictions and for deciding to abandon his planned meeting when he realised he was moving ‘from a digital conversation to reality’.

Mr Lewis Aldous, prosecuting, said an undercover officer started exchanging messages with Courage, who was using the screenname OlddevonMforFem on eh Chatiw site and posed as a woman with access to an 11-year-old girl.

Courage’s messages became sexual and he discussed having sex with the girl before he booked a room in a budget hotel on the outskirts of Exeter for the night on August 10, 2022.

He cancelled the meeting on the day before, claiming he had Covid, and although he stayed in touch with the decoy officer, he dd not try to arrange a new rendez-vous. His messages made it clear that he intended to have sex with the girl but wanted to minimise the discomfort she suffered.

Police found 14 child images of girls aged seven to 16 on his laptop but they were all at the lowest level, showing sexual posing rather than any sexual activity. A dismantled shotgun was found in his car which could have been reassembled and which needed a licence.

Mr Jason Beal, defending, said Courage had reached the age of 75 without ever being in any kind of trouble and had made a positive contribution to the community. He has important caring responsibilities for his wife, who is in poor health.

He said Courage did not have Covid when he cancelled the meeting but realised he had gone too far and used it as an excuse to back out.