White van man who prowled streets to prey on lone girls jailed for 12 years

A predatory man who prowled the streets in a white van so he could target young girls out walking alone has been put behind bars for more than 12 years.

Luke Weldon, 26, was arrested for his horrific crimes after he followed a 14-year-old girl in his Peugeot Partner 625, before battering her over the head with a rock and then molesting her as she tried to fight him off.

He was caught after his van was identified by witnesses as being the scene of a string of flashing incidents across Bolton, Greater Manchester, in which he exposed himself to four other young girls and tried to target a fifth.

Inquiries revealed the former pub barman was already on the Sex Offender Register, having previously been locked up after attacking a youngster walking out of an alley.

He had also begun an illicit affair with the mother of a 15-year-old girl, over which time he contacted the teenager by phone and repeatedly stayed over at their family home.

Weldon wiped away tears at Bolton Crown Court today as a judge branded him a danger to the public, after he admitted sexual assault, four charges of engaging in sexual activity in front of a child, and breaches of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

He was handed a 66 month-long prison sentence for the breaches and flashing incidents and a further six years and nine months consecutive for the sexual assault.

Following his release from jail he will be licensed until 2036 under the terms of an extended sentence order and restrictions were placed on his use of motor vehicles under a new SHPO.

The court heard the 14 year old girl was attacked at 9pm on June 9 of this year as she was walking home from a skatepark in Bolton town centre.

Huw Edwards, prosecuting, said the victim had become aware of a white van passing her.

He said: “The defendant who was driving it, smiled at her as he passed and then parked further up the road. The girl walked onto a path through a wooded area and saw the defendant get out of his van and walk slowly towards her.

”She continued on her way but seconds later felt a blow to the back of her head and saw the defendant. She screamed and elbowed him and he had what she thought was a rock in her his left hand and he knocked her to the ground.

”She started shouting: ‘get off me’ but he picked her up and fearing she was going to be seriously sexually assaulted, she repeatedly shouted the word: ‘rape.'”

At this point, Weldon had dropped to the ground and knelt down between her legs. She had punched him about five times, which seemed to cause him to desist and run away.

“She described having a panic attack during the incident and not knowing what was happening,” Mr Edwards said. “She fought back and shouted to attract attention. The defendant was seen to drive away at speed and witnesses got the registration number.”

Mr Edwards said the girl had feared what would have happened if she had not managed to get away from the defendant. She is paranoid when she is out, and struggles to concentrate at school.

Weldon’s van was spotted the following day and police arrested him as he sat at the wheel. In an interview he denied any sexual motive for the attack saying that he had intended to rob the girl of her mobile phone.

But in the preceding hours and days before the assault Weldon had exposed himself to one girl whilst sitting in his van and then targeted three others aged 11, 10 and 8 who were playing in a front garden.

The father of one of the girls chased after Weldon and took down his vehicle registration number, proceeding to intervene when he saw him about to target another youngster.

In 2017 Weldon was jailed for three years and four months, after he stalked two young girls through the streets in his car before grabbing and sexually assaulting one of them.

The girl suffered cut knees from the glass and gravel on the path where the attack happened.

And police discovered he had seduced a mother of three he met online and falsely told her he had been in jail for drugs offences, before texting her daughter to wish her good luck with a medical operation.

In mitigation defence counsel Miss Sara Haque said Weldon had ”crippling” social anxiety and depression and has spared his victims the ordeal of cross examination.

She added: ”There are clearly issues from his past which need to be explored. He was affected by his parents’ separation and the death of a beloved grandfather. There are anger issues and he is willing to undergo therapeutic treatment.”

But sentencing Judge Martin Walsh told Weldon: “This was a serious sexual assault upon a 14 year old girl.

“You followed her and attacked her. You struck her to the back of the head. You were carrying an object which the complainant believed to be a rock. She was knocked to the ground. You sought to hold her down. She struggled and screamed for help fearing that she would be raped.

”She punched you several times and you then made good your escape. Although there were no significant physical injuries, the attack upon this girl has had a significant psychological impact upon her.

Judge Walsh said the offence is “particularly troubling” as Weldon’s exact intention was left unclear and it was impossible to know what the final outcome may have been had his young, vulnerable victim not been able to fight him off.

”You sought out contact with young girls and it is clear from the manner in which the offences were committed that there was an element of forethought and planning,” he said. “These were not spontaneous offences which occurred on impulse.

”Having regard to all of the information which has been placed before me I am quite satisfied that you do pose a continuing significant risk of causing serious harm to the public, in particular young girls.”