A self-confessed paedophile who sexually abused a primary school age girl around 15 years ago has walked free from court after his jail sentence was suspended.
Jailing Belfast-based Steven Fulton for three years but suspending the sentence for three years at Downpatrick Crown Court, Judge Geoffrey Miller QC said he was taking that "highly exceptional" course because the 38-year-old had already served a significant jail sentence from a previous offence.
The judge said Fulton spent four-and-a-half years in jail after he admitted abusing a female in offences committed after the offences he was dealing with, adding that as a result, the paedophile was already subject to numerous orders designed to rehabilitate him and to protect the public including a prison licence which runs until 2023 and a lifelong and "stringent" Sexual Offences Prevention Order.
"In these circumstances I ask rhetorically what purpose or benefit there is in sending you back to custody which would result in a shorter licence period," said Judge Miller.
At an earlier hearing Fulton, with an address at a city centre probation hostel, entered guilty pleas to three charges of indecent assault committed on dates between July 2002 to July 2004.
On Friday, a prosecuting counsel told the court how Fulton was in his early 20s and the victim was aged between seven and eight when she was abused in Fulton's bedroom on three occasions.
The offences came to light in February 2018 when the victim reported the matters to the police.
During police interviews, Fulton did admit to sexually abusing the girl but claimed there had only been one incident although he later pleaded guilty to the three counts of indecent assault.
Defence QC Eugene Grant told the court Fulton's guilty pleas "were welcome" and had spared the victim the additional ordeal of having to give evidence in court.
Judge Miller warned the pervert hat if he breached his licence conditions or reoffended, "that may lead to an automatic return to custody" and any other sentence will be served consecutively.