A paedophile has been jailed for 26 years after he asked an undercover police officer if he could have sex with her disabled daughter, eight.

Gerald Hedges, 61, targeted the girl – who had a mental age of five – after the officer posed online as a mother, telling him her child had a condition known as Type 21 Down.

He also raped two adult women almost three decades ago and sexually abused two other women when they were children, Portsmouth Crown Court heard.

A jury heard how Hedges started talking to the officer in an online chatroom called Disabled Chat UK.

When she told him she had two daughters – the eight-year-old and a baby girl – he asked if he could move in as a lodger to help pay her bills.

In messages sent in May and June 2017, Hedges told the officer they could ‘share both girls’ and he would be her ‘kids’ lover’.

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After the defendant was arrested, two women came forward revealing Hedges had raped them around 30 years ago and two further women claimed they had been sexually abused by him when they were children.

Prosecutor Jodie Mittell said: ‘Hedges was particularly interested in young girls in school uniform, because he would slow down [as he was driving] in the car if they were walking past.’

Mittell also read statements from his victims, with one saying she had battled severe anxiety issues, triggered by Hedges’ favourite drink whiskey and the sight of ‘overweight older men’.

In her statement, one victim said: ‘I just feel sick all the time and totally anxious. I just need closure and to feel safe again.’

Another wrote: ‘I feel alone, I always have, and I have never felt like I fitted anywhere. I still feel ashamed and dirty.’

Hedges denied the charges, insisting he had been joking in the online chat room, had never abused any young girls and the sex with the two adults was consensual.

But a jury convicted him of seven charges of indecent assault, two child sex offence, and five rape charges after a trial in July.

Judge Timothy Mousley QC said Hedges ‘lacked the courage to admit what he did’ and jailed him for 26 years.

Ordering Hedges’ laptop, mobile phone and tablet – which were all used for grooming – to be destroyed, he said: ‘I dare say your victims will never fully recover or reach a stage when they feel safe. One can only hope now we have come to the stage you have been sentenced there will be some degree of closure.’

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Speaking after the case, Hampshire police constable Deborah Symes, part of the team who caught Hedges, said his victims had finally got the ‘justice they deserve’.

She said: ‘Hedges is a dangerous man capable of online child abuse, as well as contact sex offences involving both adults and children.

‘No doubt it has been especially difficult for his victims, having to revisit and disclose the most distressing time of their life, stand up in court to give evidence, and tell their story in front of a jury of strangers

‘They had lived with this and bottled it up for nearly 20 years while Hedges walked free.’