A 22-year-old man who carried on having sex with 14-year-old girl even when he found out she was underage has been spared a jail sentence.

Connor Clark, who was 21 at the time, had consensual sex with a girl, initially believing she was over the age of 18, Preston Crown Court heard.

Clark, of Highfield Street, Darwen, admitted to sleeping with the teenager after meeting her through mutual friends.

The court heard that the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, began to meet with Clark and other acquaintances to smoke cigarettes and cannabis at the start of April 2019.

Prosecuting, Paul Brookwell said: "Around Easter time, a group of them had been smoking and drinking in Darwen, before the victim, who was drunk at the time, and Clark, went back to his parents' home address.

"It was here that sexual intercourse took place, and continued to take place on further occasions.

"Neither the defendant nor the victim told their parents what was happening between them and it was only when suspicions arose with her parents did they discover she had told Clark she was much older than she was."

The court heard that Clark soon became aware of the girl's real age, but did not make efforts to end the contact and continued to have sex with her.

He was interviewed by the police on two occasions, once in May and once in August, and made no comment.

As a result of these incidents, Mr Brookwell said the victim had been afraid of going out and had suffered with anxiety, hair loss and weight loss, while relationships with her friends and family had also been affected.

At a hearing in February, Clark, who has no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual activity with a child, on the basis he was not aware the victim was 14 at the time the offences were committed, but he also admitted there were actually five occasions where they had had consensual intercourse.

Judge Simon Medland QC said: "The serious aspect of this comes when you did realise how young she was but you continued to have sex with her.

"It was entirely consensual but in the eyes of the law she was far too young to give proper consent.

"Overall these matters are so serious that only a custodial sentence can be applied to them, but bearing in mind your own immaturity and lack of mental development I am prepared to suspend the sentence."

Clark was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years, ordered to carry out 20 days of rehabilitation activity and a sex offenders behaviour programme, and was told to sign the sex offenders register for the next 10 years.