A WAR veteran, who lost part of his leg in Afghanistan, was caught by online paedophile hunters after he tried to persuade fictitious teenage girls to have sex with him.

Lee Harvey, 32, of Sedbergh, thought he was talking to 13 and 14-year-old girls, when in fact he was communicating and sending sick pictures to vigilantes using decoy profiles.

Appearing at Manchester Crown Court, Harvey, who was living in Bolton at the time, admitted 10 offences, including attempting to engage in sexual communication with a child, attempting to cause a child aged 13 to 15 to watch an image of sexual activity and possessing indecent photographs of children.

Charlotte Crangle, prosecuting, said a member of a group called ‘North East Protectors’ posed as a 14-year old girl called ‘Isabella Cook’ and logged into a chat room.

On March 3 2018 she was contacted by Harvey, who called himself ‘Lee Tate’ and asked her for a photograph and sent her a picture of his naked torso.

The conversation quickly became sexual and he asked for “naughty pictures” and told her he lived in Manchester.

He suggested she could become his girlfriend, asked her for sex and told her he “could make her dreams come true”.

Ms Crangle said Harvey sent pictures of his genitals to the ‘girl’ via Whatsapp and began sending “vulgar and disgusting messages” over a number of weeks.

He added her to a Whatsapp group he created called ‘Naughty Little Girls’ containing 50 girls who all appeared to be underage.

Harvey said he would drive up to Newcastle from Bolton and collect her from school on a Friday afternoon and then take her back to his house where she could stay for two days after telling her parents she was staying with a friend.

After three weeks of communication, the woman posing as the decoy sent details of the messages and screen shots to the police who arrested Harvey on March 23 2018.

In interview Harvey admitted he sent the messages and photographs but said he had no intention of meeting her.

He said he had been discharged from the army in 2012 and had been using drug and alcohol to cope with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Harvey was released on bail the next day but he immediately began messaging what he thought were underage girls and another member of the paedophile hunters group reported him.

This decoy was posing as a 13-year-old girl called ‘Toni Smith’ and Ms Crangle said she was contacted by Harvey using the name ‘HotSoldier4u’.

He asked her to have sex in his car and sent naked pictures to her suggesting she could be his girlfriend and asking her to send him sexual pictures and videos.

Ms Crangle said Harvey said he could take the girl to a “dark car park or hotel” to have sex and she reported him to police on March 26 2018.

He was arrested again on March 29 2018 and admitted sending the messages and images to the second decoy.

Ms Crangle added that Harvey, of Birks Lane, had previous convictions for affray and repeated drink driving offences but nothing of a sexual nature.

Andrew Scott, defending, said Harvey was medically discharged from the army, where he served in the parachute regiment. He was badly injured in a bomb blast in Afghanistan and lost the back of his thigh.

Mr Scott said Harvey had joined the Parachute Regiment aged 19, had successfully completed three tours of Afghanistan and would still be in the army were it not for the “life-changing injuries” he had suffered in April 2010.

“He has significantly struggled to come to terms with what happened to him,” said Mr Scott. “He was medically discharged from the regiment which was a stigma which those outside the regiment may not fully appreciate. It had a colossal impact on his mental health and this was his response. I don’t want to knock the military but they build the machine and make the machine function.”

Handing Harvey a 12 month sentence suspended for 12 months, Judge Timothy Stead, said: “I am mindful that you have had more than your fair share of difficulties.You have served your country and very unhappily you have suffered badly for it but drink and drugs have done even more harm to you. You have to stop that or it is an even gloomier future for you.”

Harvey was made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order for ten years and will also have to sign the Sex Offenders Register for ten years.