Dereham man jailed for “wicked” campaign of sexual abuse against young girls

Dereham man Michael Etheridge has pleaded guilty to child sex offences.

Dereham man Michael Etheridge has pleaded guilty to child sex offences. - Credit: Norfolk Constabulary

A man who embarked on a 'wicked' campaign of historic sexual abuse against girls has been jailed.

Michael Etheridge, 74, assaulted the first victim, who was just five at the time, after leading her into the woods to pick hazelnuts.

He appeared at Norwich Crown Court yesterday to be sentenced after he previously admitted 11 counts of indecent assault against four victims.

The court heard all four victims were under 16 when the offending, which took place between 1959 and 1999, started.

The court heard all of the victims were still 'under the shadow' of the abuse they suffered.

Sentencing Etheridge to a total of four years in prison, Judge Stephen Holt said it took 'courage'to admit to the offences and also spared victims the 'horror' of giving evidence.

But he said people did not understand the affect this sort of abuse had on victims.

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Judge Holt said it did not stop when defendants were sentenced but 'stays with them for the rest of their lives' and could have an impact on relationships with the victims' parents, partners and children.

Judge Holt said: 'It's a wicked thing.'

Andrew Shaw, prosecuting, said Etheridge, of Howard Whitby Close, Dereham, had two previous convictions for indecent assaults dating back to the early 1960s and a caution for a sexual assault on a woman with learning difficulties in 2005.

Michael Clare, mitigating, said he pleaded guilty to the offences and recognised it had to be an immediate custodial sentence.

Mr Clare said apart from the matters recorded against him he appeared to have led a 'worthwhile and hardworking life'.

Etheridge was also added to the Sex Offenders Register indefinitely.

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Constable Stephanie Plowman, of the Child Abuse Investigation Unit which oversaw the investigation, said: 'This was an awful case that will impact on the victims and their families for the rest of their lives.

'It highlights that no matter how long ago an offence or offences took place, we are committed to carrying out a full and thorough investigation to ensure those responsible are brought to justice.

'Hearing a victim's account of the abuse they faced as a child is always distressing and all credit to the victims who came forward and reported to us what they went through.'