A TEACHER caught in a 'paedophile' sting trying to meet what he believed was a schoolgirl for sex has been spared jail.

David Simpson, 49, from Oak Street, Accrington, was last December found guilty of attempting to meet a female under 16, intending to commit a relevant offence, between last February 22 and 27, by a Burnley Crown Court jury, after a five day trial. He had denied the allegation and had no previous convictions.

Simpson, who still protests his innocence, received 12 months in jail, suspended for two years, with 12 months' supervision and 150 hours unpaid work.

He was ordered to sign the Sexual Offenders Register for 10 years and was given a five-year Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

Simpson qualified as a teacher in 2002 and then taught at Hollins Technology College in Accrington. He left in December 2011 and told the jury it was because of work pressures. He returned to teaching in 2012.

The defendant had worked as a supply teacher at Norden High School and Sports College, Rishton, Alder Grange Community, Technology School, Rawtenstall, and Ribblesdale High School, Clitheroe, around the time he started sending obscene internet messages to what he thought was a 15- year -old, last February.

The messages to the 'child', the jury had been told, used an 'effective grooming technique' and had included calling her 'my sexy little schoolgirl,' and one telling her: "We will have lots of sex when we are together. You won't be a little girl anymore."

He had asked the '15-year-old' to take pictures of herself in her school uniform and had sent her a photo of himself.

The court had heard Simpson had not been communicating with an under -aged girl at all, but a woman in her 20s. Lisa Chard had acted as a decoy to help a man named Stinson Hunter set up a fictitious profile in the name of Lisa Rogers on the free adult dating site Plenty of Fish. Mr Hunter was out to trap what he would describe as a ' paedophile' and Simpson was later caught in a sting when he turned up in Birmingham on February 26, to meet the 'schoolgirl' for sex in a hotel.

Sentencing, Judge Andrew Woolman said it was an aggravating feature in some respects that Simpson taught children the sort of age he thought Lisa Chard was.

He told the defendant: "There have been no complaints from any actual girls you were doing anything to them, but you were intending to have sex with a 15 -year -old girl, just the sort of age of girls you were no doubt teaching."

The judge said he had read character references handed to him by his barrister, Philip Holden, very carefully. He said :" It's clear people speak very well of you and think you are normally a good man and it's always powerful mitigation when a wife from whom you are separated sends in a letter pleading on your behalf."

Judge Woolman said two matters had persuaded him it was proper to suspend the sentence. He continued :" I think now this matter is in the open, you may have learned your lesson. One factor persuaded more than anything and it is the very fact you spent three months in custody."