A man who sexually assaulted a young girl in Hitchin has narrowly avoided prison.

Michael Petrou, 24, appeared at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, July 1, for sentencing.

He has been convicted of two counts of assault on a girl under 13 by touching, which took place in 2015.

The victim told her parents five years on from the assault, and an investigation was launched.

The offences had been committed between July and October of 2015 and involved Petrou, who was then a teenager himself.

The assaults had happened on three occasions and on each the defendant had exposed himself to her.

Judge Philip Grey hearing the case was told the girl had been deeply affected by what had happened, her school work had suffered and her trust in men had deteriorated.

Before the offences she had been “outgoing and bubbly” but afterwards she had become withdrawn and quiet.

Lawrence Henderson, defending, said the defendant now lives in London and these offences had happened at a time when he was taking the drugs MDMA and LSD.

Passing sentence, Judge Grey said: “I must sentence you on the basis that you were a young person when you did this.”

He passed a 15 month jail sentence, but it was suspended for two years.

Petrou, of Brecknock Road, London, was told he would have to complete 250 hours of unpaid work and carry out a 30 day rehabilitation activity requirement when he will work with probation staff to address his offending behaviour.

He was also told he would have to complete 34 sessions of a sex offender course.

“You have avoided custody by the very skin of your teeth,” the judge told him.

You can report information to police online at www.herts.police.uk/report, speak to an operator via online web chat at www.herts.police.uk/contact or call the non-emergency number 101.

Anyone in Hertfordshire who has experienced sexual abuse or sexual violence can also contact the Herts Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) for practical and emotional support.

The Hertfordshire-based Red Kite charity also operates a helpline for survivors of sexual assault on 01279 790450.