A FORMER shopkeeper who used to run a Widnes school uniform shop has been jailed for three years this afternoon after being convicted of historic sex offences.

Rhale Akram had denied sexually molesting two under-age girls but was found guilty after a trial at Liverpool Crown Court.

Sentencing 44-year-old Akram, who used to run M&R Fashions on Alforde Street, Judge Denis Watson, QC, said: “They were both flattered by the attentions of you who were an older man.

“You pursued your friendship with both of them knowing they were underage and you knew they were both shy and naive.

"You had an interest in younger girls and because of your age, charm and elements of your lifestyle you had little difficulty in persuading them to do as you asked.”

“They did not complain at the time and you did not force them to do anything they were not prepared to do. They both look back at those events with a degree of shame or embarrassment as to how they behaved at your insistence.”

He pointed out that Akram, who showed no emotion during the hearing, had been aged 23 and 24 when he had sexual activity with one girl when she was 14 and 15 and he had been 27 when he had sexual relations with the other girl, aged 15.

Akram, formerly of Alforde Street, Widnes, had been convicted of six offences of indecently assaulting one girl and four of indecently assaulting the other girl. The offences took place in the 1990s at locations in Widnes.

Liverpool Crown Court heard from Anna Price, prosecuting, that Akram, now of Roch Bank, Crumpsall, Manchester, had groomed his victims by giving them gifts.

Akram has two previous convictions in 2015 for indecent image offences, which post-date the assaults, for which he received three year community orders.

The two victims came forward after hearing about those offences.

Sarah Elliott, QC, defending, said that the gifts had been given to the girls as part of ‘ordinary courtship and not something done in order to obtain sexual activity acquiescence’.

Ms Elliott told the court: “He was not a sophisticated man and one girl described him as young for his age and naive. He was popular and well liked at the Red Cross.”

He went to university but then returned to working in his mother’s shop and lived ‘a sheltered and culturally restricted life’.

He had two failed arranged marriages and had been abused himself as a child.

“He feels distressed for the upset he has caused the complainants and feels sorry if he made them feel as he did when he was abused,” said Ms Elliott.

He had had to move home following publicity after the previous convictions which has caused difficulties as he is his sick mother’s carer.

Akram also had to sell the shop and he invested the profits in health supplements which he sells on a self-employed basis.

He has £50,000 worth of stock which is time limited in its efficacy.

He has been working with the probation service while subject to the community orders and there is still work to be done, she added.

Judge Watson ordered Akram to sign the sex offenders register for life.