A care home worker was confronted by paedophile hunters after asking for topless photos from what he believed to be girls aged 12 and 15.

Joseph Ball, 63, exchanged messages to two Facebook accounts supposedly belonging to children and continued asking for photos after being told they were underage.

His sick messages included requesting photos of their chests, asking whether one girl had been kissed before, and telling her he wished he was in bed with her.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Ball, then of Drewitt Crescent, Southport “lost everything” including his job and partner of 18 years after being confronted by paedophile hunters outside his then home on November 3.

Prosecuting, Sarah Holt explained that a member of the group set up a Facebook account under the name Chloe Anderson earlier this year.

In May, Ball sent a friend request to the Chloe Anderson account and began exchanging messages. That account used photos of the woman who set up the account designed to look younger than she was and clearly stating her young age.

The age was repeated in messages, Ms Holt said, but Ball proceeded to repeatedly ask for photos of her breasts.

She said: “He asked if she was in bed and commented he would like to get in bed with her.

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“There were some other messages asking if she had been kissed and how big her breasts were.”

He also asked for the “girl’s” phone number and called once but it was not answered.

The messages became less frequent over the course of a couple of days and eventually he blocked the Chloe Anderson profile on Facebook two weeks later.

However, the woman behind the profile later spoke to another member of the group who had also set up a fake profile, this time under the name of Lilly-Ann Lewis, and also been contacted by Ball.

Between October 23-25, he had sent messages to that account in which he “also asked for photos of Ms Lewis’ breasts despite being told she was 12”.

Ms Holt said: “He sent photos of himself topless, his car, his place of work.

“He asked if her mum was at home, told her to delete the messages and deleted them himself, which had the effect of clearing them on her devices as well. However, she had already taken screenshots of them.”

Three members of the paedophile hunter group visited Ball’s home with screenshots of messages and confronted him about his activity in a video which was broadcast live on Facebook.

Ball was arrested that night, at which point the hunters handed over their evidence to the police and the pervert made a full admission when interviewed.

Defending, Trevor Parry-Jones said that Ball had no previous convictions and had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity.

He said: “He cannot explain in any way. He is appalled.

“He used this expression of himself, “I’ve just been bloody stupid'.”

Mr Parry-Jones observed that the two offences took place over short periods of time and that his offending was not sophisticated in any way.

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He observed that he had used his real name and photo and given out his phone number and address, making it very easy for the hunters to track him down.

He also stated that Ball had been more honest in interview than “someone more criminally minded might be” and explained how his life had unravelled since his shameful acts came to light.

In January, Ball had received an award from his bosses for 20 years of work and he had since worked through the pandemic in a role which saw him assist in the kitchen, garden and at other homes owned by the same company. He is now suspended and expected to lost his job at a hearing this month, the court was told.

Mr Parry Jones said: “His partner of 18 years, he and she have separated as a result of this.

“He has lost his employment and has nothing left, he is probably unemployable.”

Sentencing, Judge Thomas Teague QC observed the case was particularly unusual due to the lack of victims involved.

He rejected a suggestion that a community order could be issued and said there was no alternative to a custodial sentence.

However, he pointed to Ball unlikeliness to reoffend and his low risk to the community in deciding to suspend the eight month sentence for one year.

Judge Teague said: “Unlike so many people who find themselves in the dock in your position, you have not tried to blame anyone else, you have not tried to give any of the lame excuses one often sees.

“I have no doubt that this is an isolated incident, one which you very much regret.”

Ball was also ordered to take part in 30 rehabilitation activity days and carry out 60 hours of unpaid work and handed a 10 year order which bans him from using internet enabled devices.