A FIRE officer and former school governor who walked free after being caught with indecent images of children is behind bars for sex crimes against a girl.

Gary Mason was today (Friday, January 10) jailed for 11 years for attacks on the victim - carried out at a time when he was downloading sick pictures from the internet.

Mason - described as having "a clear interest in young girls" - pinned down the child and subjected her to repeated assaults, Teesside Crown Court heard.

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The 52-year-old denied nine charges of sexual assault and assault by penetration, but was found guilty of five of them after a trial last month.

Judge Howard Crowson, who also banned him from working with children and put him on the sex offenders' register for life, told him: "The evidence was clear."

Mason served on the board of governors at High Tunstall College of Science in Hartlepool, and who worked as an arson awareness officer for Cleveland Fire Brigade.

The Northern Echo:

The court heard that he also served in the Army for 22 years after leaving school, reaching the rank of Captain, and also in the Territorial Army.

His victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the jury during the trial that she tried to fight off her well-built attacker, but he was too strong.

"I was shouting and kicking," she said. "He was just a really strong man so when I’m kicking and flinging my legs everywhere he was pinning me down because he can do that.

“He was so strong I couldn’t do anything about it.”

She said she did not feel comfortable telling anyone about the alleged abuse at the time, but she finally told her mum as it had been “eating me up for ages".

The jury was told how Mason admitted 17 counts of downloading indecent pictures of underage girls, and was dealt with at the crown court in February 2011.

He was given an eight-month prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, with supervision, and was ordered to go on a sex offenders' treatment programme.

Today, Mason, formerly of Sandbanks Drive, Hartlepool, and now of Broad Landings, South Shields, South Tyneside, was locked up for the first time.

Defence barrister, Jim Withyman, told the court: "The defendant has been a hard-working man in the past. He has served his country."