A SOUTH Lakeland businessman was caught in a police sting trying to meet what he thought was a 12-year-old girl following sexualised online chat.

Darren Knowles, 47, was arrested in a park near Blackburn in January having actually communicated with an undercover officer.

Carlisle Crown Court heard an undercover officer struck up conversation with Knowles on a site "aimed at children".

Initially that chat was "relatively innocuous". But Knowles was said to have become "preoccupied" with meeting a person he thought was aged 12.

Knowles issued constant reminders to delete the content of conversations to someone he had called a "sexy new friend", and instructed: "Don't tell anyone."

Upon his arrest, a packet of condoms was found in his vehicle. But the court heard Knowles disputed that had anything to do with the meeting.

It emerged he had also engaged in "sexualised chat" online with two others he thought were girls aged 13 and 15.

Knowles, of Helmside Road, Oxenholme, admitted five charges: three of attempted sexual communication with a child, one of attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming, and possessing four extreme pornographic images.

In mitigation Kim Whittlestone said character references had been provided for Knowles, who had his own building business, a wife and family.

"The defendant is at a loss to explain why, over a short period of time, he has engaged in the behaviour he has over the internet," said Miss Whittlestone.

"He is very much aware of the devastating impact his offending behaviour will have on those closest to him."

Yet Judge James Adkin observed that, when speaking with a probation officer, Knowles - a man of previous good character - was "evasive" and hadn't accepted what he did.

That officer stated: "It's my assessment the risk presented by Darren Knowles would be best managed within a custodial environment because at this time due to his lack of responsibility for his behaviour, insight into the triggers to his offending, I would be concerned whether his risk is currently manageable in the community."

Judge Adkin imposed an immediate 12-month prison term, concluding the offending was "so serious". Knowles must sign the sex offenders' register, and abide by the terms of a sexual harm prevention order, for 10 years.