A FORMER soldier groomed a teenage boy over a number of years, regularly sending him indecent pictures of himself, and asking for the same in return a court heard.

Scott Sweatman, 27, first met the boy in Bury when his victim was aged 11 in 2011, but his offending continued until 2019 and throughout the boy's teenage years.

At Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court, Huw Edwards, prosecuting, said the first meeting took place when Sweatman, then aged 22, saw the boy came out of a shop close to his home and offered him a lift.

They drove for 15 minutes before Sweatman parked the car and told the boy to get in the back seat after which he began performing a sex act on himself and asked the boy to join in.

The next incident took place in November 2013, when Sweatman contacted his victim through Snapchat before sending naked pictures of himself and asking the boy to send him the same.

The following summer, Sweatman contacted the boy on Instagram, sending him pictures of his private parts, asking for intimate pictures in return and saying he wanted to touch him sexually.

A member of the victim's family later saw the messages and in September 2018, Sweatman, of Ribble Drive, Bury, was arrested.

A victim personal statement by the boy described how he had suffered anxiety, but was now relieved Sweatman had admitted what happened and that he had been believed.

Keith Harrison, defending, said Sweatman, who pleaded guilty to five counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and two counts of causing a child to look at an image of a person engaging in sexual activity, had "suffered horribly" as a child.

Mr Harrison said: "The sad fact of this case is that these offences were the product of a very disturbed, confused and upset thought process."

He said Sweatman, a father of one, had a "good army record" having served for six years, but had been "drinking to access" and lost his job.

"He has a very decent, law abiding family and they express the fear that he is vulnerable," added Mr Harrison.

Handing Sweatman an 18 month prison sentence suspended for two years, Judge Tina Landale, said: "When this boy was just 11 you put him in a situation where you took advantage of his vulnerability. "Sexual offences took place on three separate occasions and you'd already realised that he wasn't going to tell. There is a strong element of persistence in what you did".

Sweatman will also have to attend a sex offender treatment programme, undergo alcohol treatment for nine months and be the subject of a sexual harm prevention order for ten years.