A PENSIONER who groomed a vulnerable 15-year-old girl on Facebook has been spared jail.

Gary Snell, 67, of Crowborough Road, Southend, struck up a relationship with the schoolgirl after meeting her in a cafe in Westcliff in January, 2018.

After becoming Facebook friends, Snell and the girl began messaging regularly over the course of the next six weeks.

Many of these messages included Snell making sexual innuendoes to the teenager, including asking to see her naked, and wanting her to perform sexual acts with him.

Towards the end of February last year, the girl began to realise what Snell was trying to do, and blocked him on all social media before reporting him.

Snell was arrested and went on to admit one count of engaging in sexual communication with a child, and appeared at Basildon Crown Court yesterday for sentencing.

Prosecuting, Christobel McCooey said: “In her victim impact statement the girl said she would often try to avoid the sexual innuendoes and change the topic of conversation.”

The court also heard that Snell knew the girl was vulnerable with difficulties in her education and schooling.

Mitigation for Snell said he has not engaged in any sort of conversations since the incident and was going through a period of grief as his nephew had died in December 2017.

Sentencing Snell, Judge Andrew Hurst said: “You exploited her contact for your own sexual gratification.

“No matter how confident teenagers are online, on social media, they are always vulnerable. They are not for 66-year-old men to exercise their sexual fantasies on.”

Snell will also be under curfew from 6pm to 6am for two months.