HARTLEPOOL darts player Tony Eccles has been jailed for 16 year for a string of rapes and indecent assaults.
The 44-year-old, nicknamed The Viper, was found guilty of five counts of rape and a further five indecent assaults after a 12-day trial at Teesside Crown Court on Tuesday.
As he was sentenced on Thursday afternoon, Judge George Moorhouse told Eccles: “This was systematic serious abuse.
“She was extremely vulnerable. You groomed her during that period.
“There’s only one penalty I can pass and that’s one of a substantial term of imprisonment.”
The court had heard how Eccles, of Northgate, on Hartlepool’s Headland, had escalated from touching the girl indecently to repeatedly having sex with her.
His victim had told the jury that Eccles said she was “special” as he forced her to have sex against her wishes, including once in some bushes outdoors.
The victim, now an adult, also explained how on one occasion he used a sex toy on her.
It is a spectacular fall from grace for the professional darts player, nicknamed The Viper who has won 13 tournaments in his 14-year career.
Eccles had played with the game’s best and was given a fourth seed at The Lakeside in 2007 and 20th in the PDC World Championships in 2009.