Jurors have been asked to put themselves in the position of a woman accused of committing horrific child abuse alongside her partner.

Debbie Pickersgill, 46, of Buckingham Street, is charged with four counts of sexual activity with a child.

Her partner, Mark Aspin, 44, of Endeavour Crescent, is charged with 23 sickening child sex offences including rape, sexual activity with a child and inciting a child to engage with sexual activity.

The jury in the almost two-week trial at Grimsby Crown Court have now retired to deliberate their verdicts on all 27 counts, but before they did they were addressed by barristers representing Mr Aspin and Ms Pickersgill barristers.

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It is alleged that Mr Aspin targeted and groomed three underage girls before violently raping them.

Mr Aspin claims that although he did engage in sexual activity with two of the girls, that only happened when they had turned 16.

He also claims he fell in love with one of the girls, even going as far to father her child, but says he only engaged in sexual activity with the second girl to "benefit" her as she "felt ugly."

Ms Pickersgill and Mr Aspin both accept that they took part in group sex sessions with both alleged victims - with Mr Aspin saying that only happened when both turned 16.

Mark Aspin and Debbie Pickersgill
Mark Aspin and Debbie Pickersgill

But Ms Pickersgill, contradicting that claim, told the court in her evidence that the girls were younger.

She told the court she would only participate as she feared she would be beaten or killed by her partner, who she claims had been violent towards her throughout their relationship and had even threatened to "crack her skull open."

Michele Stuart-Lofthouse, mitigating for Ms Pickersgill, said her defence is that she was under duress to commit the offences she is charged with.

She said: "There are many reasons why victims of domestic abuse stay with their partners, that may seem nonsensical. Sometimes it is because they still have love for that partner, but that is not the reason here. Debbie Pickersgill wanted to get away from Mark Aspin.

"The approach of her staying came from connections and her ties to people that knew him. There was always a connection and a real risk that somebody would tell him if she reported anything."

Ms Stuart-Lofthouse told how although Ms Pickersgill did not voice her concerns over the alleged sexual abuse of the three teenagers, she did report the violence towards herself to police in 2014.

She said: "In 2020, she began again to disclose what had happened. She provided the police with a confession and her admissions.

Unlike Mark Aspin, who, when he was arrested, said, 'no comment' she began to tell all. All through her statement to the police in 2014, her interview as a witness and then as a suspect in 2020 and her evidence in court her position in relation to duress has been maintained throughout.

"The lid on Pandora's box had been opened.

"The abuse of Debbie Pickersgill had been her reality for many years. It started with the violence before the sexual abuse.

"I, and Debbie Pickersgill, can understand what your reaction may have been when the case was first opened, it was simply beyond comprehension as to how the charges could have happened in relation to her.

"Why didn't she protect those girls? Because of course, the first reaction in your mind is that she was an adult and that is a natural reaction.

"But there was long-term and systematic violent abuse and the fact is she suffered at the hands of Mark Aspin long before the sexual abuse. She was heavily conditioned to the abuse at that point. She didn't voluntarily participate in sexual activity with those girls."

Mark Aspin and Debbie Pickersgill
Mark Aspin and Debbie Pickersgill

Ms Stuart-Lofthouse told the court that Debbie Pickersgill, alongside the three alleged victims all claim their phones were tracked by Mark Aspin.

She said that Ms Pickersgill was controlled and "even if she said anything about dinner there were repercussions and a severe beating."

Julia Baggs, representing Mark Aspin asked jurors to keep in mind that although it had been pointed out by prosecutors that Mr Aspin had answered "no comment" during his interview and struggled over some finer details, this was not a "usual case."

She said: "It is not like a burglary trial where an alibi can be checked or a trial over a fight in a pub where the defendant can ask the CCTV to be checked.

"This is about allegations of offences that allegedly happened a long time ago. If a person is in a room with a child on their own and is then asked about it years later, all they can really say is 'I didn't do it.'

"Mr Aspin was advised by his solicitor to say 'no comment' during his police interview.

"When you heard this case was about violence and sexual abuse of children you were probably shocked and disgusted and maybe even looked into the dock to see what kind of monster committed these offences and that is natural, however that is prior judgement and it is very easy to do that."

Ms Baggs asked the jury to put aside any emotions and analyse the evidence provided throughout the trial.

She said: "We know, sadly, that not all allegations are true. If they were, then we wouldn't need a jury. If a false allegation is made, a defendant may never know why.

"It may be a lie by one person, or a deliberate collusion made by a group of people to support another person, or a desire to gain revenge. You cannot know the reasons why."

Ms Baggs went on to tell the court that no one in authority had apparently noticed any signs of violence or sexual abuse in any of the alleged victims.

She added that friends and partners of the alleged victims had taken to the witness stand to tell how they had been told of the alleged abuse and added: "Are we and they to believe everything said about Mark Aspin?

"You may think there are very many things that point to this being concocted and you may think the only safe verdicts given will be those of not guilty."

The trial continues.