A CHOIRMASTER who used his respected church links as "a cloak" to groom and abuse boys was last night (Friday) starting a six-year prison sentence.

Robert Lambie, now 77, treated his two victims to days out and made them feel special before persuading them to be photographed in their underwear.

The former music teacher moved on to abusing them once their complete trust had been won, a judge at Teesside Crown Court said yesterday.

Lambie lived in Darlington and was highly thought-of within the church and the community - but led a secret double-life only his victims knew about.

One of those he abused was given permission to read an impact statement in court, and revealed why he finally went to the police in January last year.

He had promised to keep his ordeal private unless he became aware others had been targeted or that divorcee Lambie was again working with children.

The victim said he had "carefully and deliberately" put it in the past, but felt he had to act when he saw that the pensioner was advertising music lessons.

Another victim said in a statement, read out by prosecutor Paul Cleasby: "All the things lavished on me were a way of getting me to trust him . . ."

Lambie, now of Bowmont Walk, Chester-le-Street, County Durham, admitted four charges of sexual assault when he was due to stand trial.

His barrister, Annalise Haugstad, told Judge Peter Bowers that his guilty pleas had saved the victims from reliving their ordeals in the witness box.

Speaking to one of the men after the case, the judge said: "Thank you for having the courage to speak out about what happened to you.

"Without victims such as you coming forward - and they are often afraid to - predatory defendants are not brought to justice."

Lambie was also banned from working with children, put on the sex offenders' register for life and stopped from having unsupervised access to under-16s.

The judge told him: "It is necessary the public are assured that you are not teaching children in the future.

"You gained a high degree of respect and trust, but that was used by you as a cloak behind which you would gain the confidence of those boys."

The court heard that Lambie was living in the Thirsk area of North Yorkshire at the time of his arrest.

After hearing the police were looking for him, Lambie is thought to have used file deleting software to get rid of pictures of young boys from his computer.

Miss Haugstad said: "The defendant has taken full responsibility, apologises to his victims and his own family for the distress he has caused.

"Within the context of Mr Lambie's 77 years, the period of offending over which these incidents took place is a relatively short one."

Judge Bowers was handed a bundle of "impressive" references from family, friends, people linked to the church and parents which "emphasised what was a long life of public service"

The judge told him: "Whether you realised it or not, by your conduct, you were carefully grooming them to ensure your advances were not rejected."