The former owner of a petting farm has been convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage girl.

Mark Hebdon was found guilty of one charge by a jury after a day and a half of deliberations and was cleared of two other sexual offence charges.

The 55-year-old carried out the abuse when he was running a petting zoo at Monk Park Farm near Thirsk - he no longer owns the business.

Teesside Crown Court heard how a number of messages between Hebdon and the complainant were found on the teenager’s mobile phone but the defendant’s phone had never been recovered from the pond on the farm.

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Jurors had heard how the defendant had suffered from meningitis in 2006 and the illness had impacted on his hearing and ability to respond quickly to information and questions.

The Northern Echo: Mark HebdonMark Hebdon

During his evidence, Hebdon told the jury that he thought of himself as a ‘father-figure’ to the teenager and categorically denied sexual abusing her.

In her video-recorded evidence, the complainant told officers how they were having an affair despite their age difference and that Hebdon had promised to leave his wife for her.

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Under cross-examination from Paul Abrahams, prosecuting, the accused refuted claims that he had groomed the teenager by showering her with an iPhone and money while grooming her.

Hebdon, of John Street, Great Ayton, near Stokesley, was convicted of one count of sexual activity with a child.

A sentencing date is yet to be set but a further hearing is listed to take place on Monday, July 31.