A MAN has been jailed for 25 years after he was convicted of the historic abuse and rape of vulnerable children in the Ellesmere Port area.

Patrick O’Neill, 48, had denied 26 sexual offences against three girls and three boys said to have been committed between his teenage years and thirties.

But a jury convicted him on all counts following a trial at Chester Crown Court in March this year.

Sentencing today (Thursday, April 26) Judge Patrick Thompson paid tribute to the bravery of the victims who were forced to relive their ordeals by giving evidence in court.

O’Neill, who suffers with a heart condition and could not stand during the hearing, showed no emotion as he was sentenced.

The judge told him: “You stole their childhood and you stole their innocence. I’ve read the victim impact statements in this case and it’s clear your offences have caused great damage.

“This was systematic abuse of six vulnerable children who were groomed and exploited by you in a very determined way.”

The harrowing impact statements, read to the court by prosecutor Mark Connor, reveal O’Neill’s victims all now suffer with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some had self-harmed and attempted suicide as a result of what happened to them.

“They were children craving kindness and affection,” the judge said. “You pretended to provide that kindness to gain their trust and respect but then once you had it you preyed on their vulnerability and used them to satisfy your own sexual desires.”

Andrew Green, defending, said there was little he could offer in mitigation as O’Neill maintained his innocence.

He stressed that many of the allegations related to a time when the defendant himself was also classed as a child.

O’Neill, who has lived in Ellesmere Port, Blacon and most recently in Flint, has no previous convictions for sexual offences and has a wife and a family.

“This sentence will be felt not only by Mr O’Neill but it will have a heavy impact on those nearest and dearest to him,” Mr Green told the court.

The judge stressed that he was confined by sentencing guidelines both current and historic, and the sentence he passed could in no way reflect the anguish caused to the victims.

O’Neill will have to spend at least 12 and a half years behind bars before he is even considered for parole.

In front of a busy public gallery today, the judge also paid tribute to the painstaking work of Cheshire Police in securing a conviction.

The victims in the case cannot be identified for legal reasons.