London - A former mayor was jailed for nine years after a judge heard how he used a teenage girl as a sex object and even encouraged her to sleep in bed alongside him and his wife.
Ex-Tory councillor Simon Thornton told police who arrested him: "You know I am the mayor of Godalming?"
Thornton, 46, admitted 22 charges involving having sexual relations with the girl when she was aged between 13 and 15. He denied two other counts of paying for sex and producing child pornography.
Thornton, who was mayor of Godalming for less than six months – taking up the role in May last year but quitting in October, citing ‘personal reasons’ – had an illicit relationship with the 13-year-old girl, involving sex on a weekly basis.
Thornton began grooming the girl from her 13th birthday, buying her phones, picking her up from school and inviting her to his work and home.
They established a routine involving texting each other a code. Thornton took any opportunity to have sex with her, the court heard, including at his work at a butcher’s shop, in his van, or on a local common.
Thornton went to great lengths to ‘normalise’ his behaviour, including having the girl sleep in bed beside him and his now ex-wife.
Guildford Crown Court also heard that Thornton seized upon the opportunity to produce multiple indecent images and videos of his victim.
The prosecution said that when he was arrested, Thornton told police officers the accusation had been made because the victim was trying to win a competition he was judging in his capacity as mayor.
In a statement, the victim said she believed she loved Thornton and how it was only after confiding in a school friend that she came to realise his behaviour was wrong. She added: "I did not like being at home, so I started staying at Simon’s as often as I could."
"He was a kind and generous man and I felt safe and cared for. I thought I loved Simon, he never made me feel scared or vulnerable."
"At the age of 15, I confided in a friend. He told me to tell my mother, who was dismissive. Since then I have lacked self-respect for myself which has caused me to make poor decisions. I was forced to grow up too quickly and I have suffered depression."
The victim contacted police after meeting with Thornton in adulthood, at which point he tried to reminisce with her by showing her a video he had filmed of them during their relationship.
Thornton’s defence counsel argued that he had suffered the loss of his own childhood, having attended a remedial school and being diagnosed with dyslexia.
However, Judge Robert Fraser told the defendant, of Bordon, Hampshire: "She stayed at your house which gave you the opportunity to abuse her and you used this to have sex with her at least once a week."
"She said she felt safe and secure in your company and her statement sets out very clearly how she almost viewed you as family.
"You made a show of being a man of the community but the fact is, you exploited this girl and robbed her of her early teens – you have forever blighted her life."
Investigating officer PC Tamzin Ede said: ‘Simon Thornton displayed predatory behaviour to abuse a child for a prolonged period.
"He clearly believed he would get away with this offending given how long it carried on and has now rightly been jailed for his abhorrent crimes."