A 30-YEAR-OLD soldier who had sex with a 13-year-old girl in the back seat of his car was jailed for six years.

Christopher Pickford, of 22 Engineer Regiment, Perham Down near Tidworth, had groomed the girl on social media before arranging to meet her in April 2014.

He contacted the girl, who lives near Larkhill and cannot be named for legal reasons, on April 9.

Pickford befriended her as they chatted online for six hours, before he suggested they meet up.

She told him she was 13, he lied that he was 17.

He picked her up in his car and they drove to a car park where they had sex in the back seat — an encounter the judge described as “not far short of rape”.

Afterwards, he continued pestering her to meet him again but she rejected him, and asked another girl to tell him to leave her alone.

In November, Pickford began pestering this other girl, aged 14, to meet him. Through the app Click Chat, he asked her if she was a virgin and if she wanted to lose her virginity in the back seat of his car, and sent her photos of his genitals.

Prosecuting, Tom Wright said: "He was very explicitly sexual in his texts to her, describing in detail what he wanted to do."

When the second girl's mother intercepted the conversation, she challenged Pickford in an "angry exchange of messages".

This time, Pickford said he was 21.

Judge Keith Cutler spoke of a "terrible new world" where youngsters meet online and "show each other pictures of their bodies" — "a nightmare for many parents".

He said: "Reading the interview with the first girl, it's not far short of a rape, is it? She really was very reluctant. She doesn't really want to do any of it. She's far from willing. It's a very, very close-run thing."

Sentencing Pickford to four years for sexual activity with a child and two years for grooming the second girl, he said: "She was enormously reluctant and clearly regrets having any sort of sexual contact with you.

"You wouldn't listen and carried on, and it was only at the end when she was in tears that you stopped and took her home."

"It's really an appalling piece of behaviour on your part. You realised she was 13, you thought she was a virgin and that so excited you, you weren't going to take no for an answer."

And he said: "Society is very, very concerned about older men trying to groom and meet and have sexual contact with young girls."

Defending, Nicholas Cotter said his client deserved credit for his guilty plea. He described how Pickford had lost a friend in combat in Afghanistan and had been depressed on his return from duty. He began drinking and his girlfriend left him, although Mr Cotter said this did not "excuse or absolve" his crimes.

"He put his hands up fully and is making every endeavour to confront his offending," he said.

Former Lance Corporal Pickford, who has two sons aged seven and nine, had no previous convictions, but a probation report said he posed a high risk to young teenagers.

He must sign the sex offenders register for life and is subject to a lifetime sexual harm prevention order.