An “isolated” man who lives “a sad and pathetic life” and has a sordid interest in young girls was snared by paedophile hunters who were posing as teenagers online.

David Moran thought he was talking to girls as young as 13 and 14, named ‘Molly Jackson’ and ‘Mia Strummer’, and a ’12-year-old’ called ‘Poppy’ during online conversations in September 2022, Preston Crown Court heard.

He was arrested for these offences on September 18, 2022, when the group of online activists attended his home address in Accrington Road, Blackburn, to confront him and then contacted the police.

Prosecuting, Lousie Oakley, told the court Moran admitted sending messages to the ‘girls’, which included photos of his genitals and videos of him committing a sex act, but said he “didn’t have an attraction to underage girls”.

She also said the ‘teens’ had told him they were aged ‘13’ and ‘14’, although when ‘Poppy’ revealed she was ‘12’, contact with her desisted.

Moran, 40, was released under investigation but continued to offend, and was caught again in 2023 talking to a decoy online called ‘Katie Wilson’ who he called his “sexy girlfriend”, as well as a ’13-year-old’ called ‘Ellie Chapman’, and another ’13-year-old’ called ‘Chloe Thompson’.

Miss Oakley said: “There was a confrontation involving an activist group and the police were called.

“He was arrested on November 21, 2023, and interviewed the following day where he answered no comment.”

Moran pleaded guilty to five counts of attempting to engage in sexual communications with a child.

Mitigating for Moran, Darren Finnegan told the court: “He lives a sad and, with no offence meant, pathetic lifestyle in isolation.

“He has a dog which is his only companion. He shops at 2am as he can’t be around people.

“He has had anxiety since the age of 18 when he was attacked in the street.

“He’s remorseful about what happened and says he doesn’t have a sexual interest in children.”

Jailing Moran, Judge Robert Altham, the Honorary Recorder of Preston, said: “I have read the pre-sentence report, and, in many respects, it makes for troubling reading.

“You don’t see girls of that age as vulnerable, and you deny trawling for girls on the internet, and most troubling of all is that you don’t accept having an attraction to young girls.

“You have some history of mental illness. A partial cause of these problems is because of what you suffered at 18.

"You became isolated from friends and lived a solitary life and while that’s the background that doesn’t reduce culpability.

“I am troubled that you offended while under investigation which undermines any prospect that you will comply with any community order that is imposed.”

Moran was jailed for 19 months and ordered to sign the sex offender’s register for 10 years.

He was also made subject of a sexual harm prevention order for the same length of time.