By Paulyn Lloyd
A fugitive paedophile who abused a Middleton girl for seven years and then went on the run for five years was jailed today.
Howard Poots of Thornhill Drive, Dromore, County Down was originally arrested in 2005 but fled to Ireland whilst on bail to live with a travellers.
From there, police believe he crossed the border to Northern Ireland where he worked as a lorry driver.
He returned to England this year and was re-arrested in Cheshire when police doing a routine check pulled over a HGV he was driving.
Poots, 58, was found to have a false driving license and after further checks police discovered he was wanted.
Poots pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a girl under 16 and failing to appear in court.
He was jailed for six years and nine months at Bolton Crown Court.
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, today slammed the sentence: “He should have got life. I’m living a life sentence because of him.”
She added: “The best thing I’ve heard in years was the judge saying, go down.”
This case raises questions about whether serious sex offenders should be granted bail.
A NSPCC spokesperson emphasised that the crucial thing is for children to be effectively protected from sex offenders wherever they are.
The spokesperson claimed that if there is a risk of absconding, then a sex offender should not be granted bail.
He said: “If there is a long delay between the offence being committed and a trial it can place a lot of stress on the victim if they are going to give evidence.
“Appearing in court takes tremendous courage and any child going through this process needs all the support they can get.”
According to NSPCC figures over a quarter of rapes recorded by the police are committed against children under 16.
Detective Constable Andy Pilling said: "Poots must have thought he had cheated justice after he fled to Ireland. However, when he fled to Northern Ireland he still needed to make a living so continued to work as a long distance lorry driver.
"Thanks to the diligence of those officers from Cheshire he is now where he belongs – behind bars.”