A THREE-year-old boy, who was set to become the youngest witness ever to give evidence in a UK court, has helped put a paedophile behind bars.

Predator Philip Barnaby, from Darlington, was yesterday (Thursday) jailed for 15-and-a-half years for a campaign of abuse against young boys.

He changed his plea at the last moment when one of his victims - aged just three-and-a-half - was lined up to give evidence over a live-link to the courtroom.

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The youngster was being looked-after in a specially-adapted room at Teesside Crown Court as Barnaby was due to stand trial.

But at the 11th hour, as jurors were about to take their places, the 55-year-old changed his plea. Balding Barnaby admitted raping one youngster and sexually assaulting another in the late 1990s and 2000s.

Defence barrister, Tom Mitchell, said that Barnaby had no previous convictions, and the fact that he had finally pleaded guilty was virtually his only mitigation.

The mother of the youngest victim was granted the rare right to personally read out an impact statement to the court.

Fighting back tears and staring straight at Barnaby, the brave mum said: "My main emotion is pure anger and hatred.

"I'm haunted by the thoughts of what my little boy had to go through . . . I feel physically sick. Philip Barnaby is a monster who cannot be changed. (He) has wrecked my little boy's innocence. I have a life sentence just so he could get sexual gratification.

"I wish Philip Barnaby could just stop breathing, but then that would be just too nice."

Very young children often give video-recorded interviews to specially-trained officers, and they are played to a jury.

Police are usually reluctant for them to be called to give 'live' evidence, because it is such a traumatic experience.

And nobody the near age of the youngest boy in Barnaby's case has ever then been cross-examined by a defence lawyer.

But the boy saw it as his "special job" and was "looking forward to telling the boss the truth", police said last night.

The judge told Barnaby: "Your crimes are so serious because the harm that they have caused to both families are irreparable.

"The effect on her and her son needs nothing more said by me."

Barnaby, of Salisbury Terrace, Darlington, was jailed for 15-and-a-half years after he pleaded guilty to child rape, three offences of indecency with a child, three of indecent assault, and taking indecent images.

He was ordered to register as a sex offender for life, and given an indefinite sexual offences prevention order banning him from contact with children under-16 and from owning a camera or phone camera. Last night, detective constable Lynsey Eglington hailed the youngster's bravery and the work that went into nailing Barnaby.

She said: "This case was unique because the victim - a boy aged three years and six months old - would have been the youngest in the country to have given evidence at court against the abuser.

"We had to carry out meticulous planning to secure the child's evidence and determine how it would be presented to the court.

"Throughout this process his well-being was constantly monitored and assessed. This would not have been possible if the boundaries had not been explored extensively by the police and other agencies.

"This 'working together' approach made this achievable and it gave the family confidence in how we were securing their son's statement and safeguarding him through the court process.

"Due to the planning being so precise and well-orchestrated the little boy was looking forward to going to court to speak to the 'Boss' (the judge) and excited that he had an important job to do. He compared himself to Jake, the Neverland Pirate. "Our two main goals were to secure and present the child's evidence without causing further distress and the second was to hold accountable a sexual predator who specifically went out of his way to target children.

“Philip Barnaby has offered no explanation to the police, but it is obvious he presents a great danger to children. He cannot control his sexual urges for children and this risk will always be present. He cannot change."