A MAN who sexually abused a young girl repeatedly over a period of years has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Alan Novak’s offending came to light when the girl told another adult about what had happened to her after being taught the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC) PANTS rule at school.

The PANTS rule tells children that their body belongs to them, that their underwear covers up their private parts and that nobody should ask to see or touch them.

It teaches them to tell a trusted adult if anything makes them feel upset or worried.

Durham Constabulary launched an investigation, which led to the 65-year-old, of Park Square, Hartlepool, being charged with four counts of sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 13, and one count of causing a girl under the age of 13 to engage in sexual activity.

Novak denied the offences, but was found guilty following a trial at Durham Crown Court.

He was jailed for 54 months and must sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.

In a victim impact statement read out in court, one of the girl’s family members said: “The constant “if only” we had realised this was happening, but the reality is that the NSPCC’s educational videos were our saviour in this. They helped her to realise that what had happened wasn’t okay, and that grown-ups shouldn’t behave like that.

“Our focus now is convincing her she is a survivor, that it’s her strength and courage that define her. With the support she has around her with family, friends and the pastoral team at school, we hope this can be achieved.”

Investigative Officer Heidi Weir, from Darlington Safeguarding Team, led the investigation.

She said: “This was a complex investigation which involved a young victim, whose bravery and courage must be recognised. In coming forward she has identified that what was happening to her was wrong, and had the confidence to challenge her abuser about this. On this occasion the NSPCC programme was invaluable in identifying these offences and bringing Novak to justice.

“If anybody suspects one of their relatives, friends or neighbours to be victim of a similar crime then please contact us – we will do everything we can to bring the offenders to justice and to safeguard our vulnerable members of the community.”

Helen Westerman, head of local campaigns for the NSPCC, said: “This young girl showed great courage and confidence in reporting her abuser, and this case shows the importance of helping to ensure our children know how to speak out about something that concerns them.

“Our PANTS rule is simple - Privates are private, Always remember your body belongs to you, No means no, Talk about secrets that upset you and finally Speak up, someone can help. There is a wealth of information on our website which is fully age appropriate and accessible to parents. By sharing this message, we can continue to give children the support