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.

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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.