A predator took advantage of a young girl’s “vulnerability”, growing in his bravado as he committed a series of increasingly serious sexual offences against her, a court was told.

Allen March was said to have been aware that the girl had been the victim of online grooming and was at a low in her life.

Durham Crown Court heard that the first inkling she received of his unwanted attention was when he sent her a message commenting on her body and breasts, which his victim now believes was the defendant seeing, “what he could get away with”.

March moved on to touching offences before he raped the girl for the first time prior to her 13th birthday.

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Joe Cully, prosecuting, said the defendant's abuse of the girl continued for several years, before his victim finally gained the courage to speak up about his activities, having feared for a long time that she would not be believed.

The 58-year-old defendant, of Orchard Street, Crook, was charged with 18 sexual offences, including five of rape.

Despite his denials and claims that his victim was lying, he was convicted of all 18 offences following a week-long trial at the court in May.

The former taxi driver appeared back before the court via video link from nearby Durham Prison for today’s sentencing hearing.

Mr Cully said that important evidence emerged during the trial of March having sent a photograph of his private parts to another child and to a 17-year-old female passenger in his taxi.

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The abuse victim’s impact statement was read to the court in which she said she was a “really vulnerable kid” when she first encountered March.

She said she suffered from low-esteem and had self-harmed as a result of his actions, which had badly affected her education.

The Northern Echo: Jailed sex offender Allen March, 61, ex-taxi driver from Crook

In addition, she said she has suffered nightmares and flashbacks, and is nervous in the presence of men, refusing to answer the door to male delivery drivers or go alone in taxis or on public transport.

Chris Baker, for March, said he had no previous convictions, but added: “He has had his trial and knows there is no mitigation that can be put forward.”

Mr Baker said the defendant has his own health issues and “physical ailments” which he will have to endure during his, “very lengthy imprisonment.”

Judge James Adkin told March that he began grooming the girl from a young age and his complimentary message about her physique would appear to have been, “testing the water”.

The judge said some of the evidence heard about the sexual abuse of the victim, during the trial, was, “harrowing to listen to.”

Judge Adkin told March: “It’s said you’re previously of good character, but the more serious the offending, the less weight that holds.”

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Sentencing him as, “an offender of particular concern”, he imposed the 23-year prison sentence with a one-year licence extension.

The result is that March will have to serve at least two-thirds of the 23 years, almost 16 years, before he will be eligible for release on licence.

He was made subject of a restraining order, relating to the victim, and registration as a sex offender, both for life, while he will also have to abide by the terms of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order for 30 years.