A serving soldier from the South Hams has escaped jail after parading his privates to paedophile hunters posing as teenagers.

Matthew McKay, aged 33, of Uptown, Ugborough, was in uniform and lying on a bed at his barracks in Gloucestershire when he sent a string of obscene selfies to what he thought was a teenage girl.

One showed him with a sheet or duvet covering his modesty, but the others had emojis stuck on top of his naked penis.

He went on to exchange obscene messages with decoys from two different paedophile hunting groups.

In them he discussed masturbation and encouraged one decoy, posing as a 13-year-old, to touch herself.

McKay admitted attempting to incite a child to sexual activity and three counts of attempted sexual communications with a child.

He was ordered to go on a sex offenders’ treatment course and do ten days of rehabilitation activities by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He was also put on the sex offenders’ register for five years and made the subject of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order which will enable the police to monitor his future internet activity.

The judge said he was not sending McKay straight to jail because he has already served the equivalent of a six-month sentence and society would be better protected by him going on a sex offenders’ course.

Judge Johnson told him: “It appears that in the terminal stage of your second marriage you turned to the internet for sexual satisfaction and initially sent images to adult females.

“In 2018, you turned a corner. It is suggested you did this for heightened excitement because you were bored with what you had been doing up to that stage.

“You started communicating sexual messages to what you thought were children.

“Mercifully, you were not talking to girls of 12 or 13 but to adult females, so the harm is lower. I bear in mind that your offending was in two stages.”

McKay was suspended from the army after being caught by the first group last year but carried on trying to groom girls on the internet after returning to his home in South Devon.

He has spent three months on remand at Exeter Prison after members of the Devon-based UK Database group confronted him at his home near Ivybridge.

He used the false name of Billy Forrest in his initial Facebook contacts but was traced to the Duke of Gloucester barracks at South Cerney, near Cirencester by a group called No More Silent Voices.

Miss Rachel Drake, prosecuting, said McKay was serving at his barracks in Gloucestershire in July last year when he made Facebook contact with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl called Megan and a 12-year-old called Gabby.

In fact, he was in touch with an adult working with the group No More Silent Voices, which recorded the logs of his online chat over three weeks, in which he discussed masturbation and sent pictures of his erect penis.

He was wearing his uniform in one of the images and covered part of it with an emoji in some of the messages.

He asked the girls to send him images of themselves in underwear or bikinis.

The group alerted the military police and he was suspended.

He was caught doing the same thing in May of this year while back at home in Ugborough.

This time the decoy was posing as a girl of 13 and he sent her graphic instructions on how to touch her private parts.

He sent pictures of an array of vibrators and asked the girl to choose which one he should use to stimulate himself, leading to the UK Database group nicknaming him “Dildo Man”.

Mr Michael Green, defending, said there had been no contact with real girls and only one of the messages encouraged them to touch themselves.

He said McKay is still in the army but has been told he will be discharged as soon as the paperwork is completed.

He had been in the army since he was 17 and served without any previous disciplinary problems.