A PREDATORY paedophile has been jailed for nine years and members of his family have been told to "hang their heads in shame" for the way they behaved towards his victims.

Gary Watson had blighted the life of a woman whom he had abused when she was five and his persistent and years-long abuse of two more girls had affected them so badly they had self-harmed and their schooling had suffered, The Recorder of York, Judge Paul Batty QC, said at York Crown Court yesterday.

The policeman who brought Watson to justice, Det Con John Atkinson, of York Serious Crime Team, was commended by the judge. The detective praised the victims' "courage and determination", and their families for the way they had supported them.

Judge Batty told Watson he was guilty of “predatory abuse" over two decades and had a “dark side”.

When the girls finally broke their silence, Watson had denied the offences and had tried to “assassinate their characters” during his nine-day trial.

As members of Watson’s family listened in the public gallery, the judge told Watson: “The way in which you, and for that matter, members of your family, have pilloried these brave children who have come forward to give evidence, you and they should hang your heads in shame.

“You have tried to bluster your way through this trial, bluster your way and swagger your way out of criminal liability. You gambled and you lost and now it is the day of reckoning.”

Watson, 55, a former rugby league youth coach and former chocolate worker, of Clifton, was convicted by a jury on Thursday of indecency with the five-year-old girl, and five sexual assaults, seven charges of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and one of sexual activity with a child, against the other victims, starting when one of them was nine and the other 11.

In addition to the nine-year prison sentence, he was given a sexual harm prevention order banning him from life from contacting or staying in the same house as any girl under 16 without social workers' express consent, among other conditions.

He was also put on the sex offenders' register for life.

York Press: York Crown Court - zxc

York Crown Court

Det Con Atkinson said: “Beneath his veneer of jovial respectability, Watson was a predatory paedophile whose vile conduct only came to light when the victims found the courage to disclose his offending to professionals, family and police.

“It is to Watson’s shame that having been confronted with his crimes he subjected his victims to a further two years of anguish as they waited to face him in court. He falsely maintained his innocence despite all evidence to the contrary – but to no avail, as the jury saw through his lies.

“It is fortunate that the victims received tremendous support from their families and I commend them for their courage and determination.

Watson's barrister David Hall said to the judge: “You will be aware of the disastrous consequences of such a sentence on a man of his age and standing in the community.”

Watson had poor health, said Mr Hall. During the trial, Watson told the jury he was diabetic and had a condition that made it painful to lie on his stomach.

The judge commended Det Con Atkinson for his diligence and the way he had handled a very sensitive case.

Outside court, Det Con John Atkinson encouraged other victims of sexual abuse, even if it had happened a long time ago, to come forward.

"He said; “This case highlights that a crime, even though committed so long ago, can and will be successfully investigated to the same high standard as any other.

"Anyone who is affected by sexual abuse, whether it is happening now, or occurred many years ago, should not hesitate to come forward to the police or contact one of the many agencies who can help."

If victims did not want to talk to the police, they could contact Bridge House, North Yorkshire's Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) directly on 01904 669339 or via www.turntobridgehouse.org

Watson's offences came to light when one of the victims spoke to her teacher at school. The school then activated its sexual abuse protocol, which included caring for the child and contacting both social services and the police.

The deputy headteacher of two of the victims was among the prosecution witnesses who gave evidence at the trial.