A 68-year-old man has been jailed for seven years for grooming and sexually assaulting the young daughter of a family friend from Co. Meath.

The defendant who cannot be named for legal reasons had denied the charges but was convicted following a trial at Trim Circuit Court last September.

The charges relate to several counts of sexual assault and one count of meeting the girl for the purpose of sexual exploitation on diverse dates between 2012 and 2014.

The court heard the girl was 12 years old when the first offence was committed while on a visit to the cinema in Dublin when he put his hand on her thigh.

The defendant and his wife were regular visitors to the victim’s home in Co. Meath where the later assaults in 2014 were committed in her bedroom and sometimes in the sitting room while her siblings were present.

The offences escalated from touching to kissing and digital penetration.

On the final occasion, the girl’s mother came upstairs and saw the defendant kneeling down kissing her daughter’s stomach.

The victim’s family then checked her mobile phone and found the man had sent her a long series of sexually graphic messages saying he wanted to make love to her using sex toys and engage in bondage.

In a victim impact statement, the woman said the defendant had got into her head and she had gone along with his behaviour in the hope that it would not get worse.

She said the defendant had been making out that he was looking out for her.

As a result of his actions, she has been on anti-depressants since she was 15, has dropped out of school and lost her trust in men.

The court heard that following the guilty verdict the defendant had disputed the victim’s version of events in interviews with the Probation Service.

Today, Judge Martina Baxter said the defendant had been highly manipulative of the girl and her family and had clearly singled out his victim before she was even a teen.

The judge described his offending as a gross violation of the trust placed in him.

“She was in her home where she should have been safe,” said Judge Baxter, who added the defendant had shown a distinct lack of remorse, insight or contrition.

The judge imposed concurrent sentences ranging from two and a half to seven years for each of the offences.