A “STRONGLY religious” church-goer who committed dozens of sexual assaults against a child – including multiple rapes - has been jailed for 15 years.

Bully Nigel Smith repeatedly molested and raped his victim over several years, starting when the child was around five.

Described by probation officers as a “control freak”, the now 63-year-old, a former member of Romsey Christian Centre, would often subdue his victim through violence.

The court was even told how Smith would sit his victim on his lap during church services for his own sexual gratification.

However, Smith, of Bitterne Road East, refused to accept his wrongdoings.

Instead, he insisted he had not meant to harm the child – who the court heard was now suffering from suicidal thoughts.

He denied all charges against him, but was found guilty during a six day trial at Southampton Crown Court.

Sentencing him, Judge Nicholas Rowland, said Smith had shown a lack of remorse.

He said: “What is apparent to me is the impact this has had on your victim.

“You’ve no appreciation for what you did nor any remorse.”

Judge Rowland also condemned Mr Smith’s use of violence, describing him as a “bully”.

Prosecuting, Rufus Taylor told the court that the first incident had occurred when the child was between five and six-years-old.

The court heard how the assaults had caused “serious” psychological harm to Smith’s victim.

Defending, Sarah Jones said Smith had come from a violent background and accepted her client faced a lengthy prison sentence.

Judge Rowland sentenced Smith to a total of 15 years in prison.

His sentence was for four multiple counts of rape, as well as concurrent sentences for sexual assault and cruelty to a child.

Smith was also given a further concurrent sentence for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Regarding the case, a statement from Romsey Christian Centre read: "Romsey Christian Centre adheres to a strict safeguarding policy, and our safeguarding officer ensures that all our workers, paid and voluntary working with children and vulnerable adults, are included in DBS criminal record disclosure checks.

"While Nigel Smith attended the church as a member of the congregation, he has never been in a leadership position in the church and was not a member of our staff team. However, we take our responsibility very seriously to report any concerns regarding any member of our congregation to the appropriate statutory authorities including police, children’s social care or adult services.

"As soon as we became aware of an allegation of physical abuse involving Nigel Smith, we took immediate action to inform Romsey Police Station and Nigel Smith was subsequently arrested. We also informed Nigel Smith that he would no longer be able to attend the church to ensure the safety of our other church members."