Mark Hebdon trial: Former owner of Monk Park Farm in North Yorkshire 'lost his phone in duck pond' after being accused of sexually assaulting girls

The former owner of a farm park and petting zoo near Thirsk claimed to have lost his mobile phone in a duck pond shortly before he was arrested for sexual offences.

Mark Hebdon, 54, is facing allegations made against him by three teenage girls dating from 2004, 2012 and 2018-19, when he and his wife ran Monk Park Farm at Bagby. They have since sold the business to new owners.

He is currently on trial at Teesside Crown Court and denies seven charges, including sexual activity with a child and sexual touching of a child.

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The charges relating to the 2004 allegation were dismissed as it could not be conclusively ascertained whether the victim was under the age of 16 at the time.

Mark Hebdon

The court heard that the complainant in the 2012 incident of alleged sexual touching was interviewed by police previously, but the case was not pursued. She was spoken to again when the third victim made a complaint about Mr Hebdon, who was arrested in March 2020.

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The most recent victim has accused Mr Hebdon of forcing her to carry out sex acts on him. Mr Hebdon admitted there had been 'rumours' among staff at the farm at the time that he was having an affair with the teenager.

On Thursday the court heard the circumstances surrounding Mr Hebdon's relationship with the 14-year-old girl, which he claimed was 'fatherly' as he felt sorry for her due to what he believed was a troubled home life. He admitted buying her shoes and a mobile phone, but denied any sexual contact.

Mr Hebdon claimed the girl had behaved in a 'sexualised manner' by sucking an icepop provocatively on the farm.

Shortly before he was arrested on March 6, Mr Hebdon was told by one of his male employees that police had spoken to him at his home as part of the investigation.

Mr Hebdon, now of Great Ayton near Stokesley, then claimed that on the day police arrived at the farm, he had been walking his dogs when he spotted a lame duck with a cut leg and tried to catch it, fearing a visitor might report him to the RSPCA for not treating the injury. While doing so he fell into the pond, thus losing his mobile phone, which had been in his coat pocket, in an 'unfortunate happenstance'. The duck escaped.

On March 1 several phone calls between Mr Hebdon and the girl were recorded, with conversations of 24 and 15 minutes in duration logged. Mr Hebdon said they had discussed the girl's mother's wellbeing, but the prosecution allege he knew of the police's interest by this point and was telling her to 'get rid' of her phone.

The prosecuting barrister said: "You ditched your phone rather than risk the messages being seen. You are lying about all of this. You knew it was inappropriate. You were sexually abusing her. Three young girls you say all had 'crushes' on you and made all this up. You took advantage of them."

Witnesses called by the defence included a member of the farm staff, Susan Cook, who testified that the victim would often seek out Mr Hebdon when visiting the farm and she was concerned enough to speak to him about it, calling the behaviour 'not normal' and warning him that he could get 'burned'.

Mr Hebdon's mother-in-law Susan Lockwood also gave evidence, and described him as a 'patient and loving' parent to his two teenage sons, the youngest of whom has severe disabilities and care needs. She said she had witnessed no inappropriate behaviour between him and the victim.

The trial continues and the jury are expected to give a verdict on Monday.

The Hebdons were dairy farmers before their herd was culled during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, and he and his father John decided to open the visitor centre instead, with a focus on families and school parties. Mr Hebdon met his wife Sarah when she was working as a nanny and visiting the farm.