Royal Navy rating Kyle Catmull’s mother wept in the public gallery as he was handed a suspended sentence at Portsmouth Crown Court this morning.
The 21-year-old was seen crying and holding his head in his hands in a sting caught on video by vigilante group TRAP in Fareham on July 24.
Catmull, who was based at HMS Collingwood after completing 10 weeks basic training at HMS Raleigh, Plymouth, thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl called Ellie.
But he broke down when he learned the minor was fictional – and he had been exchanging messages with a grown man who was attempting to snare potential sex offenders.
The pair met on the over-18 dating site Badoo after Catmull, who was 20 at the time, had broken up with his girlfriend of two years.
Ellie’s profile said she was 19, but after about six messages she told Catmull she was 15 – he then continued to exchange messages of a sexual nature with her and agreed to meet.
He had a condom with him and the pair had discussed having penetrative sex over WhatsApp.
Catmull changed his own age to 18 to ‘make [Ellie] feel more comfortable’, the court heard.
He admitted attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming last month.
Catmull was sentenced to an eight-month jail term, suspended for 24 months, and he will now complete 20 days of rehabilitation activity and pay costs of £350.
Judge William Ashworth said: “You have made full admissions to the police and to everybody in this case and you have never set out to minimise what you have done, which is unusual in these cases.
“In my view the appropriate sentence, having taken into account all the mitigating facts, would be one year in custody. However you pleaded guilty at the first opportunity. This is a clear case where the sentence can be suspended because of the very good prospects of rehabilitation.”
Catmull, formerly of East Farm Lane, Fulstow, Louth, and care of HMS Collingwood in Fareham, must now sign the sex offenders’ register for seven years.
Judge Ashworth said it is likely Catmull’s Navy career has been plunged into jeopardy, but it was said in court no final decision has been made.
Mitigating, Daniel Reilly said a letter from a Royal Navy chief petty officer who knows Catmull described him as a man determined to forge a career in the navy – having previously failed at his first attempt.
“It’s one that could hardly paint a more encouraging picture as to what it was they see in Mr Catmull and what he would bring to the service”, he said.
He told the court Catmull described his actions as ‘naive and stupid’ – and they forced his parents to move home after animosity from their local community.
Following the sentencing, a Royal Navy spokesman said: “While we cannot comment on specific cases, the awarding of a custodial sentence – including suspended custodial sentences – would normally result in consideration of an individual’s discharge from the service.”