Courageous victims of a mental health worker who sexually abused vulnerable girls as young as 12 faced him in court as he was jailed for 19 years.
Two of the three victims of father-of-ten Owen Smith were at Sheffield Crown Court on Tuesday morning to explain the impact his offending has had on their lives.
Smith, 50, who lived on Hawley Street in Sheffield city centre and is well-known in the Pitsmoor area, was convicted of offences against three teenagers following a week-long trial in April.
Smith, who worked for Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust, raped the first complainant on a number of occasions in the mid-1990s when she was just 12 years old - the first time after a party at his flat where she was given alcohol and cannabis.
He also had sex with her in front a disabled boy he was looking after.
His offences against the other two victims occurred in 2014, when one was 19 and the other 16.
Smith accepted in court having sexual contact with the two vulnerable girls - one who was addicted to legal highs and the other who lived in a children’s home - but claimed it had been consensual in both instances.
The first of his three victims felt unable to attend court, with a personal statement read on her behalf by prosecutor Richard Woolfall.
She said she had turned to drugs and alcohol from the age of 13 to cope with what had happened.
“I thought if I got drunk enough, I might get the courage to speak about what had happened,” she said.
“My teenage years were stolen by from me. Owen took those years from me and it is something I can never get back.”
His second victim told the court: “I was in a bad time in my life looking for support and for somewhere to live.”
She said Smith initially seemed ‘kind and helpful’ and she trusted him as he had been wearing his NHS staff badge.
The woman said she quickly found ‘he was not to be trusted’ and added the experience of giving evidence in court and reliving the abuse had been very difficult for her.
The third victim was first approached by Smith while he was driving in his work car and he stopped to speak to her as she was walked along the road. She told the court she had been going through a difficult time and thought he may be able to help her.
“When I saw the NHS badge and he told me he worked in mental health, I thought he was a person I could trust and he could protect me. Having to give evidence in court made me feel dirty and ashamed of myself.
“I was surprised I had the strength to do it. I’m so glad it is all over and I thank the jury for believing me.”
Judge Sarah Wright praised the ‘remarkable courage’ of the women who had come forward to testify against Smith.
She said that as one of his victims had been aged under 13, he was an ‘offender of particular concern’ and added an extra year on licence to his 19-year jail term. It means at the halfway point of his sentence he will not automatically released back into the community and will instead by assessed by the Parole Board as to whether he is suitable for release.
Judge Wright said that following conviction, Smith had been interviewed by a probation officer who was concerned at his ‘level of denial and minimisation’.
She told Smith: “She notes that it is of great concern that despite having children yourself, including daughters, you are unable to recognise your own behaviour towards these young girls is damaging and harmful.”
Judge Wright said Smith had a ‘predatory attitude towards his victims’.
She contrasted the behaviour and continued denials of Smith with the bravery of those who gave evidence against him.
Judge Wright praised the first now-adult victim who had come forward to police about her experiences as a child after learning Smith was in a position of trust working in the NHS.
She also thanked Smith’s other two victims for their ‘remarkable courage’ in coming to court to speak of the impact of his offending.
She said: “Meanwhile, while they show that courage, you continue to deny these offences and your responsibility for them.
“You have sexually preyed on young, vulnerable females.”
Investigating officer Detective Constable Stephen Evans, from Sheffield’s Child Sexual Exploitation team, said: “This is a significant prison sentence for an individual who preyed on vulnerable girls and women at risk of sexual exploitation.
“His behaviour is simply despicable, and I’m pleased he is behind bars where he can cause no further harm to vulnerable members of our community.
“I wish to recognise again the courage of the victims who have been exceptionally brave throughout this process. I hope they are reassured by the significant sentence given to Smith for his disgraceful crimes.
“Please let this positive result act as further reassurance to victims and survivors of sexual abuse that we are determined to bring offenders of this vile crime to justice and we’d urge anyone with concerns or anyone suffering sexual exploitation to come forward.”