A PROFESSIONAL darts player, who at one time was ranked among the best in the country, allegedly raped a young girl and also told her: “I could go to prison for this”.

Tony Eccles, who adopted the nickname ‘The Viper’ during his career on the professional darts circuit, denies five charges of rape and five of indecent assault and is on trial at Teesside Crown Court.

The now adult complainant, who claims she was abused between the ages of ten and 16, said the first assault happened when they were playing a video game in a loft bedroom in Mr Eccles’ home.

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She said he put his hand down the front of her trousers and then touched her between the legs.

The woman told a police interviewer: “I just sat there. I did not know what to say or do. He told me I was special and not to tell anybody what happened.

“He said he would go to prison and I would go to a home for being dirty.”

Prosecutor Shaun Dodds said the defendant also rubbed oil on the complainant’s chest while she was sunbathing and went on to regularly have sex with her, including one time in bushes near his home.

He said: “The victim says it happened loads of times and it started when she was too young to know any better. He would give her money and gifts so there is an element of grooming the child.”

Mr Eccles, who previously lived in Middlesbrough’s South Bank, reached the quarter finals of the British Darts Organisation world championships earlier this year, only to announce he was then retiring. He has won more than a dozen major tournaments in the sport.

Mr Dodds said the alleged victim told her school friends about the father-of-three “pressurising her” and also went to the police in 2005 to make a complaint, although at the time this was not pursued.

The barrister said this was evidence that it was “not a recent fabrication”.

Mr Eccles, 44, of Northgate, Hartlepool, who says none of the incidents occurred, was arrested by police and claimed the woman’s parents were jealous of him because of his status as a professional darts player.

The trial continues.