Hartlepool darts star Tony Eccles used blackmail to rape victim ‘loads of times’

Tony Eccles outside Teesside Crown Court
Tony Eccles outside Teesside Crown Court

PERVERT darts player Tony Eccles groomed and blackmailed a schoolgirl so he could have sex with her.

Eccles, known in the darts world as The Viper, was jailed for 16 years for what the judge called “systematic abuse” of his victim.

Teesside Crown Court heard from the victim how the 44-year-old raped her “loads of times”.

Eccles, groomed the schoolgirl by giving her cigarettes and CDs and also blackmailed her into not telling anyone.

He said he would go to jail and she would be taken away from her parents and put in a home for “dirty girls”.

But the girl, who is now an adult, found the courage to tell the police of the abuse she suffered and Eccles was arrested.

He denied the offences during a 12-day trial, but was found guilty on Tuesday of five counts of rape and another five of indecent assault.

Sentencing was adjourned so a statement from the victim could be obtained.

Prosecutor Shaun Dodds said: “It is clear the psychological effect this activity had on the complainant.”

The trial heard how Eccles would get the victim on her own so he could rape and sexually assault her.

His sick behaviour included calling her “special”, having sex with her in bushes and on one occasion he used a sex toy on her.

The prosecution described his actions as “a top end case” that attracted a starting sentence of 13 years.

Eccles appeared ashen-faced and looked to his supporters in the public gallery when the 16-year sentence was announced.

Judge George Moorhouse said: “This was systematic and serious abuse. She was extremely vulnerable.

“You groomed her during that period. I have read the victim impact statement and it’s clearly had an adverse effect on her, this abuse.

“She will be left with the psychological scars for the rest of her life.

“There is only one penalty I can pass and that is one of a substantial term of imprisonment.”

Mr Dodds told the court that threats had been made towards the girl, who cannot be identified, including threats to name her online.

He said: “The police are aware of this and these people would be well advised to desist from such activity.”

Jim Withyman, mitigating, said Eccles, of Northgate, Hartlepool, had been estranged from his family since the abuse came to light of his crimes and had been prescribed anti-depressants.

He said there had been no further offending since the historic offences.

The jailing of Eccles brings to an end his 14-year career when he won 13 tournaments.

He had played among the darts’ best players and was given a fourth seed at the prestigious Lakeside club in 2007 and 20th in the PDC World Championships in 2009.