AN online vigilante group confronted a 42-year-old man who thought he was meeting an under-age schoolgirl at an East Lancashire railway station, a court heard.

Paul Calvert believed he had been chatting on the internet with a 14-year-old called Kim Howells, as he made enquiries about her underwear, Preston Crown Court was told.

But the 'girl' was in fact a man called Darren Minto, who had set up the vigilante group Creep Catchers UK, said prosecutor Paul Brookwell.

Calvert, of Heritage Street, Rishton, pleaded guilty to attempting to incite a girl to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child as the result of grooming.

He was given a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years and told he must complete 30 days of rehabilitation activity requirements.

Passing sentence, Judge Beverley Lunt also imposed a sexual harm prevention order, limiting his contact with children and his online activities, and said he must sign the sex offenders register for 10 years.

The judge noted that Calvert had no previous criminal convictions and had been assessed by the probation service as posing a low risk of reoffending.

Mr Brookwell said Mr Minto, of the Creep Catchers group had set up a profile for 'Kim Howells' on an adult chat-room, using a picture of his partner Kelly Davis and the profile 'Kimmy Baby Blue'.

Calvert began an online chat with 'Kim', during which Mr Minto made it clear that the girl he was posing as was aged 14, the court heard.

Later the conversation moved to another forum, with Calvert asking her about her underwear and "touching her body", added Mr Brookwell.

Eventually arrangements were made for Calvert to meet 'Kim' at Rishton railway station on June 4, the court was told.

But when he arrived he was confronted by Mr Minto and challenged. The police were called and Calvert was arrested nearby - and was said by officers to be visibly shaking.

Richard English, defending, said the offences had occurred during a difficult time in his client's life, as he was mourning the death of his third child.

Calvert was "desperately ashamed and embarrassed" of what he had done and was now frightened of what was going to happen to him, he added.

Mr English said no actual girl was involved and he had not shared any images of himself in the chat-room.