A Timaru man has become the first person in the country to be jailed for importing a child sex doll.

Stephen Heppleston, 58, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison when he appeared for sentencing in Timaru District Court today.

He earlier pleaded guilty to importing the child sex doll and possessing objectionable publications relating to the sexual exploitation of children.

Judge Tom Gilbert said the defendant was taken to nudist camps when he was a child.

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He acknowledged this made for an unusual childhood and may have shaped who Heppleston is today.

The defendant stood in the dock, with his face scrunched up in concentration.

Looking directly at him, Judge Gilbert said he was concerned by his history of sexual offences and viewing of child sex abuse online.

He described this as deviant behaviour.

"Every little child at end of those [online] pictures has been… abused. There's immense harm in this kind of offending."

Judge Gilbert did note the man has had good jobs and long-lasting, age appropriate relationships in the past.

Custom officers were examining imports from China last year when they found the life-like sex doll that resembled a young child.

Timaru police and Customs investigators executed a search warrant at Heppleston's house on the morning of May 10 2018, before his first court appearance that afternoon.

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Heppleston will also be listed on the child sex offender register.