A GARDENER whose behaviour was described as “predatory” by a judge has been jailed for child sex offences.

James Peters-Broom, of Duncan Court, Andover, was in contact with his teenage victim on social media platforms before they met.

On Thursday last week, Winchester Crown Court heard that when the victim found out Peters-Broom was 25-years-old, she said it was “a bit weird”, but they liked each other.

Rob Griffiths, prosecuting, said the victim originally told Peters-Broom she was 14-years-old, but later revealed she was actually 13.

In a statement read to the court, she said: “He didn’t really mind, he would still love me no matter what.”

The court heard Peters-Broom had also told his parents the girl was 17-years-old.

After meeting a few times, in the summer of last year Peters-Broom asked the teenager whether she wanted to have sex and the pair subsequently engaged in intercourse.

The activity was not discovered until the victim was reported missing and the police became aware of the apparent nature of their relationship. The girl was later found at a friend’s house.

Peters-Broom was arrested and in a police interview he denied the offences, but officers seized his phone and found a conversation chain containing over 2,000 messages between the two of a “rather sexual nature”.

He tried to explain away the messages, but later admitted having sexual intercourse and that he knew she was 13.

Adrian Fleming, defending, said Peters-Broom has been diagnosed with autism or Asperger Syndrome, adding: “He is someone who both intellectually and emotionally presents significantly younger than his actual age.

“That perhaps, if anything, explains why he feels more comfortable in the presence of people that are younger than him.

“There does appear to be a degree of genuine affection of some sorts, that does not excuse the behaviour, but it does put it in some context.”

Peters-Broom admitted two counts of sexual activity with a child at an earlier hearing.

Judge Susan Evans jailed him for 36 months and he must stay on the sex offenders register for life. She also imposed a life-long sexual harm prevention order.

Judged Evans added: “Your behaviour in my opinion was predatory. It seems you stuck your head in the sand.”