A FORMER Bury Grammar School teacher has avoided jail after grooming a "14-year-old boy" online and possessing indecent images of children.

Peter Skinner, aged 73, of Holcombe Road, Greenmount, appeared at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court today, after pleading guilty to a string of child sex offences.

The court heard how, using an online public chat-room, Skinner came in to contact with an undercover police officer investigating child sex offences, and posing as Dylan ­— a 14-year-old boy, living in Rhyl, North Wales ­— in September, 2017.

Skinner, who taught at Bury Grammar School for 40 years until 2005, was posing as a 59-year-old part-time buildings designer, and messaged Dylan over four days that month ­— having initiated conversation.

The messaging quickly became sexual as Skinner asked Dylan about his sexuality, and was told Dylan was bisexual.

He replied that this was "the best of both worlds" and that he too was bisexual.

Skinner then persuaded Dylan to move to a separate private chat-room.

Prosecuting, Justin Hayhoe, told the court that Dylan raised reservations about the private chat-room, "suggesting that it was dangerous".

However, Skinner assured him that "it was right for him to be cautious but that it was perfectly safe", and that the private chat-room was "better", because there would be no record of what was said between them visible to another party, Mr Hayhoe said.

As the conversations progressed, Skinner said "it would make his day if he could see a picture of Dylan", but added that he "didn't expect expect Dylan to do sex stuff unless that was something he wanted to do".

He then sent sexually explicit messages detailing a number of sexual acts that he would like to perform on Dylan.

The court heard how Skinner further asked Dylan if he had ever had a girlfriend, and about his previous sexual experiences, before sending him a graphic picture of a naked girl who appeared to be underage, and discussing sex acts.

He also asked him if he would be able to meet up several times, and discussing travelling to meet him in North Wales that weekend.

Mr Hayhoe said Skinner had told Dylan "he would cover the cost and give him spending money".

He added that Skinner "said he would book a motel room for them as it would be easier to get him into than a hotel".

The court heard Skinner also promised to send Dylan money for his birthday and Christmas, and bring him a present back from a holiday.

Over the course of the conversations, the pair also talked about football, Formula One and super cars as well as the teenager's family and self harming ­— questioning whether this was linked to "confusion over his sexuality".

The two parties vowed to keep each other secret, and Skinner told Dylan he was "great and really cool", and said he was "really glad to meet him", Mr Hayhoe told the court.

Skinner was arrested in October, 2017, and police seized a number of computers and other devices on which were found 26 indecent images of children.

Investigations into Skinner's internet search history also found that he had searched for boys and girls aged between eight and 16 having sex, since 2011.

There was further evidence that Skinner had used software to "forensically clean" his computers several times.

Mr Hayhoe described Skinner as "well versed with computers and chat rooms".

He added that Skinner had carried out "grooming behaviour" and "was trying to build the trust of this boy".

Skinner was charged with eight sex offences and pleaded guilty to five of the charges earlier this year. The other three will remain on file.

Colin Buckle, defending, urged the court to avoid sending Skinner to jail and pursue a course of rehabilitation.

He accepted that Skinner's actions were "nothing other than grooming behaviour", but described Skinner as "courageous to accept his own culpability".

Mr Buckle continued that Skinner was "somebody who for the past 40 years has been a pillar of the community" and said he had left "a legacy" at Bury Grammar School, according to the Bursar.

The court heard that Skinner had stepped in to support the school's modern foreign languages department, donating £20,000 out of his own pocket.

Skinner had also been a member of several prestigious organisations, from which he has stepped down, including being a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne ­— a fraternity celebrating the wine of the same name.

Further, he had collected more than £100,000 worth of Victorian art works, to be displayed in a gallery in Anglesey bearing the Skinner name ­— which will no longer go ahead.

Sentencing Skinner to a two-year suspended jail sentence, Judge Bernadette Baxter recognised that Skinner was of previous good character and that "no actual harm" had been done as "it was a police decoy".

Judge Baxter said: "It's clear to me that over your lifetime you have given more to society than you have taken in many ways.

"That said the higher you climb the harder you fall and you certainly have fallen from grace."

"Society is better served if you are rehabilitated and if you can go on to live a law abiding life as you had for the first 72 years," Judge Baxter added.