A gay man has been spared a jail sentence after carrying on a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy, the Western Morning News reports.

Davrian Smythe, 20, began internet affair with a boy who said he was 16. When it emerged that he was under the age of consent, Smythe continued to meet him.

178 pages of Facebook messages were sent in less than four months.

The friendship only came to light when the boy ran away from home after a row and his parents checked his Facebook page and found scores of messages.

Smythe, of Walnut Way, Barnstaple, admitted five offences of sexual activity with a child at Exeter Crown Court and must now attend a sex offenders’ programme as part of a three-year supervision order.

He has been prevented from having unsupervised contact with children for five years.

Recorder Mr Andrew Langdon did not hand down a custodial sentence, saying Smythe had been naïve, and had actually encouraged the boy to form relationships with people closer to his own ag.

He said: “The boy himself did not make a complaint which is not surprising. It is pretty clear from the Facebook entries he was an emotional and vulnerable teenager and as such is entitled to be protected from people who are several years older.

“You formed a sexual relationship with him and after you had met him and it had become clear he was not 16 but 14.

“That was very obviously the point at which you ought to have had nothing further to do with him. It may have been difficult to disentangle yourself but you should have done so.

“What makes matters worse is that the Facebook entries make it clear you understood and were advising him it would be better for him to have relationships with people his own age.

“I have heard you are young for your age and naïve and that narrowed the gap between you. It seems to me that because of your honesty and relative immaturity you will benefit considerably from a treatment programme.”

David Gittins, prosecuting, told the court the boy was reported missing by his parents after he came out to them. An argument ensued and police mounted a search to locate him.

Mr Gittins said: “He was found by police the next day but in the meantime his parents had looked at his Facebook account and realised there were numerous messages to and from this defendant.”

Nigel Wraith, defending, said Smythe was young for his age and the boy had initiated the sexual activity. He said: “This is not a typical case. It was not a predatory older man going out to find a child. It may be their mental and emotional ages are not that far apart.”