A MAN who raped and sexually abused three young girls was yesterday jailed for 15 years.

Mark Patrick Henderson, 49, gave the girls alcohol and used an element of coercion while carrying out the offences.

But Durham Crown Court heard that after the allegations came to light, in December 2009, Henderson continually refused to accept his guilt and only began to make admissions on the day of his scheduled trial, last month.

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Julie Clemitson, prosecuting, said each of his victims had to brace themselves to come to court to give evidence, while one witness was even flown from the US for the trial.

But over the course of two days, Henderson finally came clean and admitted a total of 11 charges, including three of rape, indecency with a child and indecent assault.

He was remanded in custody pending preparation of reports by the Probation Service.

Henderson, of Bishopton Lane, Stockton, who was previously from north-west Durham, was brought back to court for sentence, yesterday.

Aspects of the victim impact statements were outlined to the hearing, reflecting the long-lasting effect his abuse has had on his victims.

Robert Mochrie, for Henderson, who is of previous good character, told the court: “He’s a man of few words and often struggles to get his message across.

“There’s very little a person in his position can do to say how sorry they are. Perhaps the most they can do is to admit the offences and he did that, albeit at the foot of the door.

“He made blanket denials to police in interview and he’s been at pains to find courage to admit to his wife what he did.

“As long as he could, perhaps rather foolishly, he deluded his partner into what he maintained was the truth.”

Imposing the sentence, Judge Christopher Prince said it would have been 17 years if Henderson had not made his eventual admissions.

Henderson will remain on the sex offenders’ register for life.