A MAN who was warned that he would go to jail for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl walked free from court yesterday.

Mark Cochrane was instead handed a £2,500 fine at Teesside Crown Court after he admitted having unlawful sex with the girl, whom he had picked up in his car.

Cochrane, 23, of Balmer Hill, Gainford, County Durham, was cleared in December of two rapes, an attempted rape and three charges of indecent assault.

But he was told by Judge John Walford that he faced a custodial sentence after pleading guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse.

But the judge said yesterday that although he understood Cochrane used his car to "seduce impressionable young girls", he was unable to confiscate his car because it was not the same vehicle that had allegedly been used to pick up girls around Barnard Castle, County Durham.

He said yesterday: "What is apparent to me is that he was using his car as a means of attracting, and indeed as a means of seducing impressionable girls, and it seems to me that not only should he be deprived of the car but he should also be disqualified from driving."

Cochrane was ordered to register as a sex offender for five years.

During his six-day trial at Teesside Crown Court, Cochrane was described by prosecution solicitor Christine Egerton as a "sexual predator", from whom even a friend's mother was not safe.

It was alleged Cochrane picked up girls in his car, between January 1999 and last December, and drove them to secluded lanes where he raped or attempted to rape them. One of the charges was brought by the mother of a family friend. Cochrane denied all the charges and was cleared, but pleaded guilty to unlawful sex.

Last night, the mother of the 13-year-old girl Cochrane was convicted of having unlawful sex with, described the sentence as "pathetic".

She said: "My daughter has been through hell, as have my family. He walks free, even after the judge had told him he was going to jail.

"Where is the justice? We have to live with this for the rest of lives, and he can get on with his life. I find it disgusting and pathetic that he can walk away and get on with his life. He should be punished for what he did."