A FORMER employee of Kerelaw School has been jailed for sexually abusing teens at the secure unit for vulnerable children.

Thomas Howe, 70, was caged for 10 months and placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years for abusing the teens.

Howe, of Sanda Place in Saltcoats, turned and smiled at his wife and family as he was led from the dock at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court in handcuffs to begin his sentence.

His victims, who are now in their 30s, were aged 14 and 15, when Howe abused them at Kerelaw School, in Stevenston.

Kilmarnock Sheriff Court heard his first victim woke up in her room one night - and found Howe next to her and abusing her.

And she said Howe resembled the Star Wars character Chewbacca because he was so hairy.

Former colleagues of Howe’s, gave evidence as defence witnesses, telling the court that workers would never go to residents’ rooms alone.

One of them explained: “They could’ve been violent, they could’ve been murderers, so we were very conscious of our own safety. We would never go alone - it just never happened.”

But Sheriff Shirley Foran rejected Howe’s claims of innocence, convicted him of indecent assaults and deferred sentence for background reports to be prepared.

As she did so, she referred to the first victim and said: “I can see no reason why, 17 or 18 years later, she would make a false report now.”

And, referring to the second victim, she said: “It is clear she had her troubles at the time and since.

“She appeared unhappy she had put herself in that position when giving her evidence - I can’t see why she’d fabricate evidence this all these years later. He did it.”

When Howe returned to the dock on Tuesday, Defence Advocate John McElroy said: “He has a position he expressed in evidence and it is adhered to in his report. He does not accept his guilt.”

He said had Howe been convicted at the time he committed the offences, the maximum length of time he could have been jailed for was three months.

And he asked Sheriff Foran to spare Howe jail, saying he was a family man, father and grandfather who had been assessed as “a low-risk of respective re-offending and a low risk in respect of any violence.”

But Sheriff Foran caged him for 10 months and put him on the Sex Offenders’ Register for 10 years.