July 2016

Stanley couple jailed for more than 20 years for sexually abusing young girls


A former couple have been jailed for a total of 20 years for a series of sex attacks on young girls.

Sick Shane Cunningham subjected one child to abuse hundreds of times and then-partner Dawn Cunningham separately molested another girl.

A court heard the youngsters were left traumatised after a series of offences by the vile pair spanning years.

The Cunninghams, who are no longer together and carried out the abuse independently of each other, had denied a series of sex offences but were found guilty after a trial at Newcastle Crown Court.

Now Shane Cunningham had been jailed for 16 years while Dawn Cunningham was locked up for four years.

Sentencing them, Judge Tim Gittins said: “I do not sentence either of you for playing any part in the activities of the other.

“While it’s deeply suspicious that two people with similar predilections found each other’s company, the victims can’t say you knew about, let alone witnessed, the acts of the other.

“It remains a feature of this case that you supported each other throughout your claims that your victims were lying fantasists.”

The court heard one of Shane Cunningham’s victims was just six when he began “French kissing” her and went on to sexually abuse her in a more serious way.

Another girl was subjected to rape and abuse by him on a regular basis from the age of 13.

Judge Gittins said: “By the time she was 14 and 15 these events were happening regularly, up to twice a week.

“It was suggested these events must have happened 400 to 500 times, until she was 17.”

The judge added: “Your actions left her suicidal but too fearful of the consequences to be able to alert anyone.

“It took her a significant period of time to gain the courage to report it to the police.”

“Given the breadth and depth of your offending, you are properly categorised as dangerous and there remains a substantial risk of serious harm to young females.”

Dawn Cunningham began sexually abusing a girl from the age of 11 or 12, the court heard.

Judge Gittins paid tribute to the resilience of the victims of the Cunninghams. He said: “It would not be right to pass sentence without me acknowledging the effect your offending has had on your victims.

“I and the jury witnessed the effect on them of having to give evidence.

“They have demonstrated an extraordinary level of resilience.

“They have undoubtedly felt in anguish for many years and it’s to their enormous credit that they were able to give evidence and although the sentences can’t turn back the clock and undo what happened, I hope the findings of the jury will give them some closure in the months and years to come.”

Shane Cunningham, 56, of Kimberley Gardens, Stanley, County Durham, was convicted of four rapes, three indecent assaults, two charges of sexual activity with a child and gross indecency.

Dawn Cunningham, 46, of Forth Street, Stanley, was found guilty of two counts of gross indecency and one of indecent assault.

As well as the prison sentences, both were told they must sign the sex offenders register indefinitely and were made subject to sexual harm prevention orders.

The court heard that, by some, Shane Cunningham was viewed as kind and compassionate and had been hard working.

Julie Whitby, defending said he suffers from deafness and has worked in care homes as a chef.

She added: “Even after the break up of his relationship with Dawn Cunningham, he helped financially.

“He has been unable to say goodbye to his parents, who he knows will die while he is in prison and that has had an effect on his mental health.

“He has found custody a terrifying experience and has been assaulted.”

Paul Currer, for Dawn Cunningham, said: “She continues to deny the offences.

“The testimonials show she is capable of showing tenderness, generosity and being trustworthy, which completely clashes with what she has been found guilty of.”

Mr Currer said she suffers from a range of health problems which have made life in custody extremely difficult for her.