A PENSIONER convicted of abusing a child after a crown court trial was last night starting a 27-month prison sentence.
Thomas Foster continues to deny any sexual offending, and told a probation officer he was "gobsmacked" at being found guilty.
The twice-married 68-year-old was said to have led a "blameless" life but for "a few hours of aberration" in April last year.
His barrister Anne Richardson told Teesside Crown Court yesterday (Monday, March 17) that the retired council worker will find life difficult in prison.
He turned up with a huge rucksack, and Miss Richardson said: "He's been advised that there can be no sentence other than custody.
"This is completely out-of-character for a man who has otherwise led a blameless life . . . there is a great deal of good in Mr Foster.
"This is not a paedophile. This is not a predatory person cruising around schools. It is quite the opposite. It is not that sort of case."
Foster was convicted of sexual assault and two charges of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity after a trial last month.
The judge, Recorder Ian Atherton, told him: "You will no doubt find it hard in prison . . . you don't accept your guilt.
"You have very powerful mitigation. You have led a blameless life, giving much to the community.
"It is spoke of in deeply moving terms by your daughter, a colleague and your ex-wife in the references I have read.
"It is a man of two parts, clearly, I see before me."
Foster, of The Crescent, Langley Park, Durham, was also put on the sex offenders' register for the next ten years.
The court heard that he worked as a painter and decorator and as a housing inspector for local authorities in County Durham.