A FORMER soldier was handed a 16-year prison sentence for raping and sexually assaulting an East Lancashire woman.

Peter Hargreaves, 52, had denied the offences, involving a victim from the Accrington area.

But he was convicted of three offences of rape and one of sexual assault by jurors at Burnley Crown Court.

The jury acquitted him of one charge of sexual assault.

Prosecutor Nicola Carroll said Hargreaves had four previous criminal convictions, for six offences, but none previously for sexual violence.

The defendant was in court for assault in 1988, affray in 1997, an excess alcohol offence later and in 2010 for a second assault.

Miss Carroll said that the victim had made an impact statement in which she outlined the determined efforts the complainant had made to rebuild her life in the wake of the offences.

The ordeal had left her self-confidence shattered, she told police, and the consequences would remain with her for a long time.

Hargreaves, of North Church Road, Fleetwood, must also sign the sex offenders register for life.

Defence counsel Simeon Evans said there was little he could say by means of mitigation, regarding the offences, as Hargreaves still maintained his innocence.

He told the court his client had enlisted with the Army at the age of 18 and had served two tours of Northern Ireland.

Later Hargreaves had worked for both BAE Systems and ICI, before taking on labouring contracts, and had always had a good employment record.

Jailing Hargreaves, Judge Sara Dodd said: “You are a man with a good work ethic and a man who seems to have retained a close relationship with members of your family."

But the judge, in passing sentence, said she noted the serious impact the offending had had on his victim and his previous record for violence.

Det Con Steve Costello said: “I am satisfied with the sentence handed to Hargreaves and hope he uses his time behind bars to reflect on the consequences of his actions

“The victim in this case suffered a huge amount at his hands, and she should be commended for showing immense bravery by reporting it to police.

“I hope the sentence sends the message that we take all reports of sexual offences seriously, and anybody who reports this type of offence will be treated sensitively.”