A man has been spared jail after grooming and having sex with a 14-year-old girl he met on Facebook.

Jake Marshall-Inns, 24, chatted with the girl on the social media site and exchanged texts before meeting her.

At a sentencing hearing, Judge Rennie said Marshall-Inns had “crossed the line” in grooming the “vulnerable” girl.

Hove Crown Court heard the girl had got in contact over Facebook with Marshall-Inns, aged 21 at the time of the offence, in December 2015.

The court heard he knew she was under 16.

Walton Hornsby, prosecuting, told the court: “There was a clear indication from the messages that the defendant wanted to meet up with the girl.”

He later had consensual sex at his home address in Corbyn Crescent, Shoreham, with the girl, who had run away from home on numerous occasions.

He later asked the girl to delete the text messages.

Andrew Stephens, defending, told the court Marshall-Inns was immature at the time and had been a victim of bullying at school.

He said: “During schooling he suffered significant bullying and self-excluded himself from school, leading to social isolation.

“He has since matured considerably and is now working and has a stable job. He has also developed a relationship with a young lady of his own age and they are expecting their first child.”

Marshall-Inns pleaded guilty to grooming a girl under 16 and possession of cannabis.

The girl did not co-operate with police, meaning a count of sexual activity with a girl under 16 was allowed to lie on file.

Marshall-Inns had no previous convictions.

Judge Rennie said the grooming was serious enough to warrant a 16-month custodial sentence but spared him jail, suspending the sentence for two years.

He said: “In 2015 you were an immature 21-year-old who had been bullied and socially isolated, you were less well equipped than people your age to deal with relationships with young females.

“It is against that background that this relationship crossed the line.

“She was younger and vulnerable.

“There must be a prison sentence of 16 months and I have given you credit for the early guilty plea.

“Because you have matured, demonstrated by your employment, new relationship and impending child, it lies in your favour to receive help and support in the community.

“The only way to make this possible is by suspending the sentence for two years.”

He was also sentenced to 35 sex offender rehabilitation group sessions, 20 rehabilitation activity days in the community and a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for a ten-year period restricting his access to young girls

He was also made to sign the sex offenders’ register.

If you have concerns that a child might be at risk of child sexual exploitation call Sussex Police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.

For more information you should visit www.sussex.police.uk/advice/protect-yourself-and-others/child-protection/child-sexual-exploitation-cse.