Darlington councillor Mark Burton jailed for sexual assault
A Darlington councillor has been jailed for sexually assaulting a girl and having pictures of child abuse.
Married father-of-three Mark Burton, 43, of Middleham Road, Darlington, was chairman of a committee responsible for children's welfare.
He was jailed for 22 months at Teesside Crown Court after initially denying the offences, but later changing his plea.
The court heard Burton took advantage of the schoolgirl following a drunken party to celebrate his re-election.
As a councillor, Burton was chairman of Darlington Council's children and young persons' scrutiny committee - a role the court heard he took to promote his political career.
Joanne Kidd, prosecuting, said the assault on the girl took place following a party to celebrate his re-election to Darlington's Harrowgate Hill ward in May 2011.
The girl later complained to police and officers found 16 images of child abuse on a laptop. They also discovered he had searched the internet thousands of times for phrases linked to paedophilia.
Specialist officers also found file-wiping software which digitally shredded documents he had held on his computer.
The court was told Burton at first denied the attack and downloading the images, telling police his sons and their friends also had access to his laptop.
But at a court hearing earlier this month he pleaded guilty to sexual assault and making indecent images of children.
Judge Howard Crowson jailed him for 22 months, made him subject to an indefinite sexual offences prevention order and placed him on the sex offenders register for 10 years.
He said: "As a local councillor, you would have held the respect of your community. You have lost that respect."
Burton will now be disqualified as a councillor.