A JUDGE refused to sentence a man accused of grooming young schoolgirls and sexually abusing them at his home after blasting “wholly unsatisfactory” failings with the case.

Judge John Walford said time and expense had been wasted hearing Anthony John Smith’s case as he was unable to proceed to sentence without discovering whether victim impact statements were available from the complainants.

Prosecutor Shaun Dodds had outlined how 67-year-old Smith would give his victims money, cigarettes and food, let them use his computer and also allow them to sleep over at his home on occasions.

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He would then take the opportunity to sexually abuse them by touching them in intimate areas over their clothing.

Mr Dodds said Smith’s offending, which was said to be over an eight month period, occurred while his wife was ill and effectively bedridden. She had since died.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Smith, of Badminton Close, Darlington, gave the children lifts and took them to McDonalds. He would also refer to them as “sexy”.

One described how he would hug her and touch her “down below”. She told police: “He’d say ‘Don’t scream. Be quiet.’

“We were scared, but too scared to tell anyone.”

Bearded Smith, who had a previous conviction for indecent assault in 1998, admitted six counts of sexual assault, although these were said to be specimen counts.

Mr Dodds said some of the assaults occurred while other girls were present. Smith himself said he was a “touchy feely” person and had an “open house”.

He also said he was mucking about when he suggested to one girl she perform a sex act on him.

Peter Kilgour, for Smith, said he was not a man in good health and had already served the equivalent of a six month sentence while in custody.

Mr Dodds said the guardian of one of the victims had indicated she did not want to participate with a victim impact statement, but the intention of the others was unclear since that information had not been made available to him.

Judge Walford said this was an “unfortunate oversight” which would prove expensive to the court.

He said: “One needs to be especially vigilant these days to safeguard the interests of victims and ensure they are given an opportunity to express their views.”

The judge adjourned the case for seven days and told Smith: “Through failings within the prosecution system what should have been done has not been done.”

Smith was remanded in custody in the meantime.