02/03/2012 09:57 GMT

Peter Rowell, Accused Of Sexual Assaults, Jailed For Six Years

A former BBC and ITV presenter has been jailed for six years after admitting a string of sexual assaults on teenage girls.

Peter Rowell, 53, used his position as a DJ on a local radio station to groom and abuse impressionable young girls.

The father-of-one, from Wickwar, South Gloucestershire, pleaded guilty at Bristol Crown Court to 12 counts of indecent assault following complaints from five women.

The assaults occurred between 1989 and the early 1990s when the women were all under 16 years old, the court heard.

Rowell also admitted six counts of making indecent photographs of children, which range from levels one to four - five being the most serious category.

He also pleaded guilty to the possession of 464 indecent images, found in his possession in January 2011.

Imposing the six-year jail term, Judge David Ticehurst told Rowell that he had a good career, a good income and a family but behind that he hid a "dark secret".

"You had a life and lifestyle that would have been the envy of many - an apparently successful career in a glamorous and glittering world," the judge said.

"Behind that public image you were a man that hid a dark secret. You were attracted to young girls, sexually abusing and exploiting for your own gratification.

"You were someone prepared to use the world of showbiz to attract young girls to you to abuse them.

"It is not the case of you involving yourself with a star-struck teenager on an isolated occasion and succumbing to temptation but a series of offences involving five separate girls over a period of five years."

The judge said that the offences had occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s when Rowell was in his mid-30s working as a DJ on GWR.

"I conclude that your use of your position in the media world is part of a breach of trust," the judge said.

"These girls made contact with you as a minor celebrity. You invited them to visit your studio and they believed they were getting an insight into the media world.

"In truth it was enabling you to sexually abuse them."

The judge told Rowell that his sexual interest in young girls was demonstrated by the indecent photographs and movies found on his computer by police when he was arrested last year.

"The true nature of your predatory interest in young girls was shown by the material found on your computer at the time of your arrest," the judge added.

However, in imposing the sentence, the judge said he gave the white-haired defendant credit for pleading guilty and sparing his victims the ordeal of having to give evidence during a trial.

The judge placed Rowell on the sex offenders' register for life and ordered that he be made the subject of an indefinite Sexual Offences Prevention Order banning contact with under 16s.

Rowell's victims, supported by their friends and family, filled the public gallery to see him brought to justice.

Prosecutor Ian Fenny told the court: "For many years he has been a well-known local personality, first as a DJ on commercial radio station GWR and then a continuity and news presenter on HTV and later as a radio presenter for BBC Radio Bristol."

Mr Fenny said that Rowell enjoyed his celebrity lifestyle and was known for his charitable work in the West Country.

"For many years he enjoyed being a celebrity. He was aware this media personality gave him status and gave him allure," the barrister said.

"To the outside world he appeared a responsible family man. What in fact the public didn't know is that he exploited his position to sexually abuse young girls."

The court heard how the victims - aged between 13 and 16 - would often phone in and request songs on Rowell's music show on Bristol-based station GWR.

He would then ring them back off-air and invite them for a tour of the studio.

"One can only imagine the impression that made upon a girl of that age," Mr Fenny said.

The barrister said Rowell targeted "with a degree of arrogance" girls who would have been "impressed by his minor celebrity".

"He would lead them to believe that he wanted a meaningful relationship with them," Mr Fenny said.

"One of the complainant's believed he would leave his wife for her."

Mr Fenny added: "This was part of the skill in grooming his young victims. He also told them that no one should know about their relationship as others would spoil it."

The court heard how the sexual abuse had taken place inside the radio station, in Rowell's car and even in some of the victims' own homes.

He sparked a police hunt when he was reported missing in March after failing to turn up to present his regular afternoon programme.

His car had been found left in a supermarket car park in Yate and he was later found in Keswick, Cumbria unharmed.

When Rowell, who is originally from Sunderland, was arrested police discovered a hoard of indecent images and videos of children - some as young as six - being abused by adults.

He had even purchased software to try to erase the contents of his computer's hard drive, the court was told.