A South African national who sent graphic pictures of himself to an undercover police officer posing as a 12-year-old child has avoided jail. Ruben Pretorius, 33, of Clifton Terrace, Douglas, contacted ‘Megan’ on no fewer than 40 occasions on social media platforms Kik and Snapchat over an eight month period.

During their first conversation she told the defendant she was 12 and he replied: ‘Ha, ha, you look 14.’

On Wednesday this week he was handed a 16 month sentence suspended for two years.

He is likely to be the last to be sentenced for an offence under the old Sexual Offences Act which was replaced by new legislation on Monday this week and which would have doubled the potential maximum sentence from seven to 14 years.

The Court of General Gaol Delivery heard that West Yorkshire police had contacted the Isle of Man Constabulary in the summer of 2022 about the offences but it was a full year before Pretorius was arrested as police here didn’t initially believe there was enough evidence.

Pretorius admitted attempting to procure an act of gross indecency against a person under 16.

He had also entered guilty pleas in the summary court to sending offensive, indecent or menacing messages between November 2021 and July 2022.

Prosecutor Roger Kane told the court that the defendant was a South African national who arrived in the island in December 2019 on a work visa and at the time was employed in the kitchen of a hotel.

He said the online conversations with the undercover operative posing as the 12-year-old girl were ‘overtly sexual’ and Pretorius, who used an alias, had repeatedly requested that ‘Megan’ send him pictures of herself.

On a number of occasions he sent pictures of himself in a state of undress and on January 20, 2022 had encouraged the ‘child’ to perform a sex act and asked her to send pictures of her doing so.

Pretorius had also tried to arrange to talk with the ‘girl’ on the telephone and by video call, telling her he could call when her mum was asleep.

The court heard that his last contact with ‘Megan’ was in July 2022. Police arrived at his door to arrest him a full year later.

Mr Kane said West Yorkshire constabulary which carried out the undercover operation, had contacted police in the island in June or July 2022 but it was deemed that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant.

He said the IP address was linked to a business address in Onchan rather than to the defendant directly.

Defence advocate David Clegg said his client’s offending had begun as ‘some sort of maladjusted coping strategy’ during the isolation of the Covid lockdown but had fizzled out a year before the arrest.

‘He accepts his behaviour was entirely unnatural and goes so far as to say disgusting,’ he said.

‘But for the grace of God and the actions of the police it wasn’t a child.’

Mr Clegg said the defendant’s girlfriend had stood by him and they had got engaged during the proceedings.

He said his client could be in breach of the provisions of his work visa if he was jailed as he couldn’t be out of work for more than four months.

Sentencing him to 16 months suspended for two years, with a two-year supervision order, Deemster Cook told Pretorius that it would have been a different matter if a real child had been involved and if he had been sentenced under the new statute.

He placed him on the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years and made him subject to a Sexual Offences Prevention Order for a period of five years.

Under the new Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications Act, the offence for which Pretorius was charged no longer exists and has been replaced with causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. This would increase the maximum sentence from seven to 14 years.