Paedophile twins who abused little girls were finally exposed when one brother confessed after a failed suicide attempt.

David and Paul Donnelly, now 58, molested their young victims in the 1980s, when the brothers were aged in their 20s.

They hid their "dark secret" for nearly four decades, but David was unable to live with the knowledge of his sickening crimes.

He tried to kill himself by jumping off a bridge on June 13, 2018 - breaking his arms, legs, knees and pelvis.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that when being treated at Salford Royal Hospital, he said to a nurse: "I'm sorry for what I've done."

Gerald Baxter, prosecuting, said David went on to tell the nurse he was sorry he had "raped" two girls and made one of them perform a sex act on him.

However, the prosecutor said the allegations made by their victims didn't "go quite as far as that" and the brothers were later charged with indecent assaults.

Police spoke to David on a mental health unit at St Helens Hospital in September 2018 and then one of the victims in July the following year.

The first victim described how Paul performed sex acts over her when she was a little girl and how on another occasion one of the twins, although she couldn't say which, had done things to a second girl. This second victim never made a statement to police.

Mr Baxter said the Donnelly brothers, both of Windermere Place, St Helens, were then interviewed by police in January this year.

David described one occasion where he made the first girl sit on his lap and perform a sex act on him and asked the second girl to perform a sex act on him, but she refused.

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Paul told police there may have been 10 occasions when he molested the first girl and he exposed himself to the second girl.

The court heard David didn't have any previous convictions, but Paul was convicted of indecent exposure in 1979.

The first girl told the court she saw numerous counsellors over the years, but never felt able to disclose the abuse until David's confession.

She suffered flashbacks, it affected her intimate relationships and friendships, and she was diagnosed with PTSD.

In a statement, the victim said she also suffered from alcohol addiction and struggled to work.

David admitted two counts of indecent assault in respect of both girls, while Paul admitted three counts of indecent assault in respect of the first girl.

Kyra Badman, defending David, said he had "significant mental health issues" and had tried to commit suicide before he jumped off the bridge, when "he managed to break his arms, knees, legs and pelvis, but didn't succeed in taking his own life".

She said guilt-ridden David twice previously tried to tell people about the abuse, once after he was sectioned many years ago, and in 2010 when he went into a police station, but rather than being charged, was again sectioned.

Ms Badman said he had undergone successful radiotherapy and chemotherapy for palate cancer, but was now being tested for possible thyroid cancer.

She said the offences may not have come to light at all if it wasn't for David's admissions and that he had "intellectual limitations" and longstanding alcohol problems.

Ms Badman urged the judge to spare him jail so he could get support, adding that while he was now "of limited risk to the wider public, he is of great risk to himself".

Tom Watson, defending Paul, said he was "paralysed by shame" and that when the author of a pre-sentence report said he didn't want to talk about his offences, that was not because he didn't care.

He said: "Nothing could be further from the truth. He's deeply ashamed."

All victims (and alleged victims) of sexual offences have a lifelong legal right to anonymity. As a result, the Echo cannot publish anything which is likely to identify a victim of a sexual offence.

Mr Watson said Paul, who suffered depression, had let his family down, including his children and eight grandchildren, who he wouldn't be able to see again unless supervised.

Judge Andrew Menary, QC, said the twins each abused "one or both" of the girls.

He noted the evidence against them came "wholly or at least substantially" from their own admissions, after David tried to take his own life, and but for that, they may never have been prosecuted.

The judge said: "I accept to an extent the opportunity you both then had to admit this dark secret you had both been harbouring for all these years was something of a relief."

However, he said the abuse was "devastating" for the first girl and had "terrible consequences", affecting her "whole outlook and life".

Judge Menary said: "I accept both of you are now desperately sorry for the way you behaved all those years ago and recognise the horror of what you both did."

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He said the offences were "simply too serious" for anything other than prison and jailed David for 16 months and Paul for 20 months.

Both twins must sign on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years.

Merseyside Police said the force had only taken a mugshot of Paul Donnelly, who had been remanded in custody, and did not have an image of David Donnelly, as he received a postal requisition to attend court and was on bail throughout.

Speaking after the case, Detective Constable Julia Jennings said: "Thanks to the bravery of the victims, David and Paul Donnelly will now be serving a significant sentence.

"We'd like to pass on our sincere thanks to the victims, as their patience and strength meant we were able to carry out this complex and lengthy investigation and help bring these men to justice. Hopefully today's outcome will in some part enable them to continue the healing process.

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"We treat all allegations of sexual offences sensitively and with compassion, and our specially trained officers will ensure that victims are listened to, safeguarded and supported every step of the way.

"If anybody else is out there suffering in silence I want you to know that there is help and support available, both from Merseyside Police, and from reliable and trusted support groups who will stand with you from the initial report and for as long as you need."

Helplines and support groups

The following are helplines and support networks for people to talk to, mostly listed on the NHS Choices website

Anyone with information or who wants to report a sexual offence allegation is asked to call 101 where you will be spoken to by specially trained officers, or you can pass information to Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

Support for victims is also available through the registered charity the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre Cheshire and Merseyside, who can be contacted on 01925 221 546 or 0330 363 0063 or Rape and Sexual Assault Merseyside (RASA) on 0151 558 1801.