A BUSINESSMAN who sexually abused a teenage girl wept in the dock as he was spared jail by a judge.

Larry Bale, aged 51, of Greylake, near Bridgwater, indecently assaulted the 15-year-old in the 1990s, a court was told.

Bale was initially charged with rape but pleaded guilty to two counts of a lesser charge of indecent assault.

When he appeared at Taunton Crown Court last week, Bale cried as he was given a three-year community order.

Judge David Ticehurst said: “There has been no repetition of this type of offending and you have no previous convictions of this type.

“The fact you have not acted in this way since the offences is significant.

“You have established what appears to be a law-abiding business and you are working hard for yourself and your family.

“As I said earlier, it is not just criminals that suffer or the victims and their families – it is also your family that suffers.

“Imprisonment of 18 months would not address the underlying issues and problems that may have led to you committing these offences.”

Prosecuting, Ian Dixey said the offences took place in the late 1990s.

He told the court that the victim was more than 20 years younger than him at the time.

The court heard that Bale runs a business from his home in the summer, while he has a job as a lorry driver in the winter.

Defending, Patrick Mason said: “He has never been in trouble for the last 22 years apart from these offences.

“He had a very difficult childhood. He is desperately ashamed and upset that he has not only upset the victim but also his wife and family.”

Bale must sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for five years and undertake the Thames Valley Sex Offender Programme.