A PAEDOPHILE who sent vile messages and pictures of his genitals to what he believed were teenage girls claimed he has drug issues and struggles with his mental health.

Gary Gould, 38, was spared jail yesterday, despite sending a series of images to an account posing as 12 and 14-year-old girls between June 2022 and September 2023.

Gould, of Essex Way, Benfleet, also asked the decoy accounts for nude images, asked them about their sexual experiences and requested they performed sexual acts.

He was arrested on September 25 and following the arrest, officers found cannabis in his possession.

Timothy Sleigh-Johnson, prosecuting, said: “Mr Gould first contacted the accounts on June 14, 2022, using the Kik platform. He then proceeded to contact three further accounts in August 2023 and September 2023.

“During a police interview on September 25, Mr Gould accepted the images contained his genitals, but denied having sexual communication with children. He also denied having knowledge of how the account was used for sexual communication with children.”

Gould admitted to two counts of attempting to cause a child under 13 to look at an image of sexual activity and four counts of attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child.

Katie Jones, mitigating for Gould, pointed out his mental health troubles and substance abuse. She said: “Mr Gould has previous offences of driving under the influence of drugs and resisting a police constable.

“Those came at a time where he was reported missing from his wife and suicidal, causing police to put out a bulletin.

“Mr Gould was found by officers at a pub and resisted police, but pleaded guilty to that offence.”

Miss Jones added during Gould’s latest offences, he was “highly dependent” on cocaine use.

She added: “He had a £200 daily cocaine habit and was struggling with his mental health.

“Mr Gould is aware this kind of offending has real consequences and real victims and at one point he will have to tell his children about this.”

Judge Ian Graham handed Gould a two-year community order with a mental health treatment requirement, a 40-day rehabilitation activity requirement, a drug rehabilitation requirement for six months and an accredited programme requirement.

Gould was handed a sexual harm prevention order and placed on the sex offenders register for five years.