AN Alresford teenager has avoided prison after performing a sex act on himself in a video call with a 12-year-old girl.

Winchester Crown Court heard how Lewis Howcroft, 19, had been speaking with the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, over video calling service Skype and had also been searching for illegal material online before being found out by police.

Howcroft, of Northington Down, near Alresford, claimed the victim had asked to see him performing the sex act over Skype, and he had initially declined, however this had not been proven.

Howcroft was caught out when the victim’s parents found messages on their daughter’s phone, and then contacted police.

Prosecuting, Colin Meeke said there was evidence of “highly sexualised” chat logs with the girl.

“What is abundantly clear is he knew how young she was, there is evidence of some grooming. He did not seek to deny the matters.”

Mr Meeke added: “It is clear the defendant, over a period of time, made a number of disturbing internet searches.”

Mitigating, Chloe Jay told the court that Howcroft “lacked the emotional maturity of an adult”.

The court also heard a psychological report had been produced on Howcroft’s “mental conditions”, which said he had already suffered grave effects including losing his job, college place and being excluded from social groups, as well as him and his family being “harassed” by ‘paedo hunters’ who seek to trap paedophiles.

Sentencing Howcroft – who was 18 at the time of the incident in November 2016 – to a three-year community order, with a 60-day rehabilitation requirement and 100 hours of unpaid community work, Judge Robert Pawson said: “You caused a child to watch a highly sexualised act. Whether she did or didn’t ask is neither here nor there, she was 12.

“I have seen and heard about the various searches you made on the internet, some of that is likely to have been down to the curiosity of a teenage person, but some of that goes beyond curiosity,” added the judge.

Hawcroft, who appeared in court wearing a grey suit with his hair tied in a pony tail, was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge.