A PRISON worker convicted of child sex offences is now behind bars himself after his barrister told a court: "His life is in ashes."

John Cornwell, 53, pictured below, was jailed for six years for a string of serious offences against girls - some of which stretch back to the 1990s.

The Northern Echo: BEHIND BARS: John CornwellBEHIND BARS: John Cornwell

Judge George Moorhouse told the married father that he had caused "untold misery" to his victims who will struggle to get over the abuse.

Cornwell, of West Auckland Road, Darlington, was also put on the sex offenders' register for life and banned from working with children.

He was sacked from his job as a support officer at Northallerton Young Offenders' Institution, North Yorkshire, after his conviction.

He was found guilty last month of four charges of sexual and indecent assault, and two of sexual activity in the presence of a child. Teesside Crown Court heard how he still maintains his innocence, and claims his one of his accusers encouraged others to make allegations.

Two of the girls claimed he watched adult films in front of them, and one told the court he "lifted his willy up and down" while he did.

Cornwell admitted during his trial that he had viewed hardcore pornography, but insisted it was some time ago and when he was alone.

The court heard that he twice dodged sex crimes investigations in the past when the girls were persuaded not to go to police to complain.

His barrister, Tom Mitchell, said: "His life is in ashes. You could say he has brought it upon himself, but that is still personal mitigation.

"What is left for him when he is released from custody, we don't know. Conviction brings its own punishment when you look at the job he had.

"It is the fact of custody not the length that matters for somebody who goes to prison for the firs time.

"If he was of previous bad character, you could throw away the key, but he's not."

Judge Moorhouse also banned Cornwell from having unsupervised contact with under-16s as part of a sexual offences prevention order (SOPO).

He said: "It is quite clear from the victims' statements that untold misery has been caused. The effect will no doubt remain in their minds."