A PICKET Twenty man arranged to meet a “13-year-old boy” at a theme park after grooming him through an online dating app.

Matthew Parker sent messages to the boy’s profile saying he wanted to “kiss, cuddle and hold hands” with him after meeting him on Grindr.

The 41-year-old later bought tickets for the pair to go to Thorpe Park.

But the 13-year-old’s profile was actually a fake – run by an adult working for paedophile hunter group Child Safe UK.

Parker, a former Red Funnell ferry officer, was arrested by police and pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to facilitate a sexual offence against a child.

Last Thursday, at Southampton Crown Court, Parker was given a suspended sentence.

The court heard he first began speaking to the boy through Grindr, an online dating application geared towards gay, bi and trans people.

Prosecutor Nick Wells told the court that Parker had stated in his profile that he was “only into young guys”.

Mr Wells said the conversation between the Parker and the boy later moved to free online chats website Kik Messenger.

He said Parker sent a number of “inappropriate messages” to the boy, including telling him he wanted to “kiss, cuddle and hold his hand”, but said that they could do “nothing more”.

Parker, who was previously employed as a First Officer on Red Funnel, the company that operates ferries to the Isle of Wight, was arrested in July last year after arranging to meet the young boy at Surrey-based theme park, Thorpe Park.

In mitigation, Lucy Conroy said Parker had undertaken counselling sessions since his arrest.

In sentencing, Judge Gary Burrell QC said Parker’s case was unusual.

He said: “Throughout the conversation you do not try to promote messages of a sexual nature and you do not request sexual pictures or send any yourself. This is unusual [in these cases].”

Parker, previously of Holbury, near Southampton, but now of Picket Twenty Way, Andover, was sentenced to a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

He was also ordered to complete 55 days of rehabilitation activity requirement, pay £600 in court costs and made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order.

Speaking after the case, a Red Funnel spokesperson said Parker left the business in October 2018.

The spokesperson added: "As the court ruling against Mr. Parker does not pertain to his employment at Red Funnel, it would be inappropriate for us make any further comment for legal and data protection reasons.”