Darlington councillor sexually abused girl after party to celebrate re-election

The Northern Echo: GUILTY PLEAS: Mark Burton GUILTY PLEAS: Mark Burton

A DISGRACED councillor has been stripped of his allowance after he admitted sexually abusing a schoolgirl following a party to celebrate his re-election.

Although Mark Burton is legally entitled to continue receiving his councillor’s allowance – unless jailed for three months or more – the leader of Darlington Borough Council, Bill Dixon, said last night he has withdrawn the money “on moral grounds”.

The married father-of-three yesterday also pleaded guilty to downloading indecent images of children – one showing an eight-year-old girl being raped and another showing a naked child bound with rope.

Burton, 43, of Middleham Road, Darlington, was due to stand trial at Teesside Crown Court yesterday for downloading the photos and was due to face trial next month for the sexual assault – but he will now be sentenced in three weeks time following the guilty pleas.

The court heard how Burton undressed the teenager and touched her intimately after a drinking session to mark his election success.

Following a complaint from the girl, police seized Burton’s computer from his home and found the sickening images. Experts also uncovered thousands of search references involving indecent images of children.

“It is not clear if I have the legal authority to stop his allowance, but I am doing it now anyway because I think it is morally the right thing to do. He can sue if he disagrees.

Council leader Bill Dixon

The Labour councillor retained his Harrowgate Hill seat in last May’s elections and next day hosted a fair in his ward before throwing a party to celebrate victory.

Richard Herrmann, mitigating, said Burton was extraordinarily drunk when he sexually assaulted the girl.

Experts who examined his computer found he had devised a sophisticated system of deleting the downloaded images, setting up a folder called ZNROP – pornz spelled backwards – and creating an editing facility. It was sandwiched between other folders relating to his job as a warehouse operator at the GlaxoSmithKline factory in Barnard Castle, and his council duties.

There was also evidence he had transferred images onto a memory card.

Burton admitted 16 charges of making indecent images of children on or before June 9, and sexual assault. Not guilty pleas to a second count of sexual assault and possessing 22 indecent images were accepted by prosecutor Joanne Kidd.

Mr Herrmann urged Judge Walford to sentence Burton immediately as he had already waited months to learn his fate. He described the offence as isolated and that there was nothing to suggest it was ongoing behaviour.

But Judge John Walford, remanding Burton in custody until February 23, adjourned sentencing to give the victim time to prepare a statement and for probation officials to assess Burton’s future risk.

Under the 1972 Local Government Act, Burton will be disqualified as a councillor if he is jailed for three months or more and under the letter of the law, the council is obliged to continue his allowance payments until then.

However, Councillor Dixon, who is also Darlington Labour group leader, said: “It is not clear if I have the legal authority to stop his allowance, but I am doing it now anyway because I think it is morally the right thing to do. He can sue if he disagrees. I am calling on him to resign immediately.”

Burton briefly attended a full council meeting towards the end of last year, enabling him to continue receiving his allowance. Councillors must attend at least one meeting every six months to be eligible.

“We couldn’t do anything before he pleaded or was found guilty,” said Coun Dixon.

Burton was suspended by the Labour Party after he was charged and his membership has since lapsed.

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