A DESPICABLE paedophile joked about "playing headteacher" while taking courses to protect children from predators like himself.

Daniel Chapman, who has been fired as headmaster at Hilltop Infant School in Wickford, fantasised about abusing children and, after being caught with vile images of abuse, tried to claim he was a paedophile hunter.

The 31-year-old has been jailed for two-and-a-half years and banned from ever working with children again after admitting 12 offences.

Daniel Chapman, 31, the fired principal of Hilltop Infant School in Wickford, admitted 12 counts including making indecent images of children, possessing images of extreme pornography and sharing “grotesque” and “obscene” messages with another convicted paedophile during his time there.

Although none of his crimes involved any children at the school, Chapman had sent messages to another paedophile saying that he was “playing headteacher” when asked what he was doing.

Chapman appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court for sentencing yesterday.

Stephen Rose, prosecuting, told the court that Chapman’s crimes had been discovered during a separate police investigation into another paedophile last year.

When searching the man’s phone, another number in which he had been exchanging messages was traced back to Chapman’s address.

Police raided his home in Meadgate, Chelmsford, in May last year and he was arrested and two mobile phones were seized, which contained further evidence that Chapman had been sharing the images and messages.

Mr Rose said: “The body of the material that was subsequently found on devices in his home as a whole showed his sexual interest in children.

“The police took it extremely seriously when they saw evidence of making arrangements to exploit children and his place of employment, where there was significant opportunity to do so.

“He was interviewed by the police to which he answered ‘no comment’.

“It was suggested the defendant had been working as a paedophile hunter who traps them and hands them over to the police.

“No evidence has been found by the police that he was acting in any good faith.”

Mr Rose also said that Chapman had previously completed a COEP Ambassador course for those working in education to fight online sexual abuse of children and protect them from such harm.

He added: “He positioned himself as someone with significant concern to act as a responsible safeguarder.”

Chapman had previously denied nine offences in June this year and was due to stand trial.

However, he changed his plea and admitted 12 charges, including six for making indecent images of children, three for publishing obscene articles on the messenger apps Kik and WhatsApp, one for possessing a grossly offensive image of two young boys, and two of extreme animal pornography.

Kevin Toomey, mitigating, described his own client’s messages as “grotesque”.

He said: “He has shown remorse, shame, and at times bemusement as to how he conducted himself.

“Many of his family are teachers. Their careers have been affected, and they are ashamed and embarrassed over what he has done. He knows that his career is lost to him.

“It is the product of his work in a high stress environment. He was isolated and had a lack of intimacy, which led him to the criminal and unpleasant actions in the virtual world.”

Judge Patricia Lynch described Chapman’s actions as “despicable and revolting” and sentenced him to two years and six months in jail.

He will also be subject to Sexual Harm and Prevention Order for ten years and is banned from working with children for life.