A CROSS-DRESSING lorry driver who tied up and abused a child is behind bars after a court heard how his victim's life is ruined.

Lawrence Ireland, 64, was jailed for four years and 11 months at Teesside Crown Court for molesting the girl in the 1970s.

The court heard how the balding pervert kept a stash of women's clothes hidden in the loft of his home in Redcar.

Prosecutor Shaun Dodds said skirts and dresses were discovered in bin liners in the attic along with pornography and ligatures.

Mr Dodds told the court that the schoolgirl had her hands tied with suspenders or stockings while devious Ireland molested her.

The former naval serviceman bought her presents and crisps to try to ensure her silence, and also made her wear adult clothing.

Two years ago, the victim plucked up the courage to report her ordeal to the police, but Ireland maintained it was all made up.

He was due to go on trial last month on a series of charges of indecent assault and indecency with a child, but went on the run.

After he handed himself in the following day, his barrister Christine Egerton told the court he had "buried his head in the sand".

Today (Thursday, February 4), Miss Egerton said he "panicked" and "his mind was all over the place' and contemplated doing something very silly".

His victim - now in her 40s - told in a statement how she was terrified at the thought of giving evidence and not being believed.

She said twice-married Ireland's failure to attend court for his trial left her feeling he was again in control and manipulating things.

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, branded him a coward and told him: "There was not one thought for her - only thinking of yourself again."

The judge added: "These offences were committed a long time ago . . . you no doubt believed you may have avoided prosecution.

"As to whether or not you forgot or put out of your memory what you did, only you can say. She, clearly, has not forgotten.

"She did not lead a full and happy life. You, essentially, ruined her life. She has had a long time to suffer from what you did."

Miss Egerton told the court that Ireland, of Troutbeck Road, Redcar, was remorseful and has "had some sort of punishment already".

She said his second marriage broke down during the police investigation and he now no longer works as a self-employed HGV driver.

Ireland, who admitted four charges of indecent assault and one of indecency with a child, was put on the sex offenders' register for life.