A man who targeted and abused a vulnerable teenage girl has been jailed.
Michael Tonge, of Leamington Road, Southend, was arrested in February 2020 after a concerned member of the public reported seeing him act inappropriately towards a teenage girl in Priory Park.
Upon questioning, the 35-year-old denied that any offences had occurred.
However, officers found hundreds of sexually explicit messages between himself and the girl on his mobile.
The victim later disclosed that he had groomed and abused her over several years.
In December 2020, Tonge answered bail and was charged.
He stood trial on Friday January 21 at Basildon Crown Court where a jury found him guilty of seven counts of sexual activity with a child and one count of sexual communications with a child.
He was sentenced to nine years imprisonment with a further three on extended license.
He will be recorded as a registered sex offender for life.
DC Dean Perry, from Southend CID, said: “Tonge abused the trust shown to him by a teenage girl who looked up to him for support.
“He exploited her vulnerabilities for his own sexual gratification, with a complete disregard for the harm it would cause her.
“He is a sexual predator and I’m really pleased that we’ve been able to put him behind bars where he belongs.”