A 55-year-old man from Haverhill who tried to incite schoolgirls to engage in sexual activity has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Chris Doyle, of Ladygate, Haverhill, appeared for sentencing at Ipswich Crown Court on Wednesday.

Doyle, now 55, was charged with three counts of attempting to cause or incite a child to engage in sexual activity, with all three offences taking place between July and December of 2021.

The court heard that two of these offences related to ‘decoys’, with members of an online safety group having created false profiles of girls who stated they were aged 13 and 14.

Prosecuting counsel Marc Brown told the court that Doyle sent a Facebook friend request to the decoy posing as a 14-year-old girl in November 2021.

While conversation started “innocuously”, Mr Brown said Doyle soon began sending messages about underwear and bodily changes relating to puberty. He also sent an explicit photo of a woman and instructed the girl on how to touch herself.

A friend request from another decoy, this time posing as a 13-year-old, was sent to Doyle, and the messages continue in a similar vein.

When Doyle was arrested in December 2021 and his devices were seized, another messaging thread was found with a girl who appeared to be 14. These messages, too, were sexual in nature and photographs were exchanged.

Mr Brown said this account was not a decoy used by the organisation who reported Doyle to the police. He said that it had not been possible to ascertain whether this was a genuine child or in fact another decoy created by a different organisation.

Doyle pleaded guilty to all three counts.

His defence counsel, Mr Jonathan Goodman said that these offences were an “aberration” in his client’s otherwise clean record.

He said Doyle was “not a habitual groomer of children”, shown by the fact he made no attempt to conceal his age or to delete records of his online activity.

He added that Doyle’s relationship of 11 years had ended because of his offences, and he had lost his employment.

For both the first two counts, Judge David Wilson sentenced Doyle to 54 months in prison. This sentence was reduced to three years, due to Doyle’s early guilty pleas.

For the third count, Doyle was sentenced to 32 months. This was reduced to two years, as Doyle initially denied the charge before changing his plea to guilty.

Each sentence will be served concurrently, bringing the total to three years, of which half will be served. Doyle will also be on the sex offenders register for 10 years and a sexual harm prevention order placing conditions on Doyle’s online activity is in place for 10 years.