A MAN who sexually preyed on a child over a prolonged period claimed he was using witchcraft to help cast out evil spirits.

Steven Wood Matthison said he was in a coven and quarter gypsy, and went on to use his claimed sorcery skills as a means of controlling and manipulating the vulnerable victim, who was too young and naïve to see through his stories.

Durham Crown Court heard Matthison told his victim the youngster had made the spirits angry, but as he was “possessed” they would have to make payment for his protection on behalf of both of them, by allowing him to carry out sexual abuse.

Dan Cordey, prosecuting, told the court Matthison bought the child a set of tarot cards, to help try to get rid of the demons, but it was all as part of the “sophisticated grooming process”.

It reached the stage where he said the child would have to undergo an initiation, which culminated in sex acts and then full sexual intercourse.

Mr Cordey said Matthison also tried to make a friend of the child undergo a similar initiation, but the friend refused to take part.

His activities only came to light when the principal victim later came forward to report what took place.

The 53-year-old defendant, of Keir Hardie Avenue, Stanley, was charged with 18 offences, including ten of rape, plus others of indecent assault, indecency with a child and attempting to incite a child to engage in sexual activity.

He failed to turn up for his scheduled trial, in February, admitting himself into hospital under a false name.

But after he was discovered and arrested on a bench warrant, he changed his pleas to guilty on the day his rescheduled trial was set to start, earlier this month.

Julian White, mitigating, said there was no suggestion of any other similar offending by Matthison, who is previously only lightly convicted.

But having found that he poses a risk of further similar serious offending, Recorder Euan Duff passed an extended 21-year sentence under the “dangerousness” provisions.

It means the defendant must serve at least two-thirds, 14 years, behind bars before being eligible to be considered for parole.

On his eventual release he will on licence for a further nine years.

Matthison was also made subject of a sexual harm prevention order, for an unlimited period, and must register as a sex offender for life.