A FORMER police detention officer - who confessed to sexual chats with an undercover detectives and a paedophile hunters' group - has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Philip Thompson, 63, even denied he had been communicating with 13-year-old girls when he was confronted with the evidence near his Royton home, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court was told.

Thompson, who lives on the town's Oozewood estate, is now beginning a 42-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to offences of attempted sexual communication with underage girls and attempted incitement of a child to engage in sexual activity and attempting to meet a child after grooming.

Colin Buckle, prosecuting, said Thompson, whose handle online was "AbSailor0" was first involved in online conversations with a decoy run by police in October 2019.

The defendant was told during the course of the messaging that the "girl" he was chatting with was aged 13 and lived in Dorset, the court heard.

Thompson informed her he was a 62-year-old man from Manchester and asked the "girl" if she was really 13, said Mr Buckle.

The court was told that the content of the conversation then became sexual, with the defendant making it clear he liked to meet "girls around the age of 13".

Mr Buckle said Thompson claimed he "liked to meet them for sex" and then went on to ask the decoy a series of personal and sexual questions.

Thompson also said he wanted the "girl" to trust him so they could arrange to meet up at some point. He shared explicit images with the decoy and the defendant sent across a photo of himself.

Mr Buckle told the court that the decoy then transmitted a picture of a young girl, dressed in a short skirt, black tights and a white blouse, with the face obscured behind a camera.

Mr Buckle said Thompson then immediately sent an obscene message in reply and asked the "girl" if he could be her boyfriend or lover.

The court heard that around the same time, Thompson was also involved in conversations with another decoy, who was operating on behalf of the Justice for Kids.

Mr Buckle said this organisation worked as what commonly known as a "paedophile hunters' group".

The court heard that the conversations between the second decoy and Thompson took place on Kik messenger.

Thompson again asked the 'girl' about personal matters, including whether she wore training bras.

The court heard in one message, he told her: "You will have to lie to your mummy. This is our little secret."

Thompson discussed meeting with the 'girl' at the Morrisons store in Heywood and referred to the decoy as his "secret princess".

Mr Buckle said the decoy became concerned, given the nature of their exchanges, when Thompson mentioned he was minding his grand-daughter.

Another member of the paedophile hunters' group was contacted and although arrangements were made to meet at Morrisons, Thompson did not attend, the court was told.

But as members of the group had obtained enough information about Thompson, they went to confront him on his estate, the court heard, but he denied any involvement.

Patrick Williamson, defending, said while there were no actual physical victims of his client's offending, he accepted the serious position he had placed himself in.

The court was told Thompson, who has no previous convictions, had been a soldier who had undergone five tours of Northern Ireland between 1974 and 1986, before serving for 17 years as a detention officer with Greater Manchester Police.

Thompson had worked latterly as a driver but that employment had now come to a end, added Mr Williamson.

His wife of 40 years had begun divorce proceedings, as a result of the prosecution and he had been ostracised by the rest of his family and now could not see his grandchildren, the court heard.

Jailing him, Judge Angela Nield said: "The fact that these were not real children does not matter, the intent was there."

The judge said it was "extremely sad" to see someone of his age and previous good character in the dock for such offences.

Thompson was also told he would be the subject of a sexual harm prevention order for 10 years and must sign the sex offenders register for life. His name will also be added to relevant disbarring lists.