By Russell Findlay

A teenager found guilty of sexually assaulting a young girl over two years has walked free from court without a criminal record or any form of punishment.

The 18-year-old denied committing numerous assaults on the girl in his home while he was aged 15 to 17 and she was between six and eight.

But after being found guilty at Dumbarton Sheriff Court in December following a three-day trial, he was given an 'absolute discharge' by Sheriff Gerard Sinclair.

That means the teenager has not been placed on the sex offenders register and the guilty verdict will not be recorded as a conviction.

As a dental student, it means future employers may not know about the crime - raising questions about sentencing and child protection.

The girl's mum, speaking to STV News, said: "How is that justice? How does this teach anything to anybody that's committing this crime?

"My idea isn't that he gets strung up and we throw him in prison and we lock the key away, but this is what the sex offenders register is for. It's to protect children."

STV News is not naming anyone involved in the case to protect the identity of the child.

Last summer the girl told her family that she been repeatedly abused by the teenage son of family friends.

Her mother approached the abuser's family and understood that he would receive counselling, but when that didn't happen she contacted the police.

After sentencing, the Crown Office told the family it intended to appeal the sheriff's decision.

However, on January 4, they phoned to say their appeal had been abandoned.

The Crown say the reasons for not proceeding with their appeal were explained, but the brief letter sent to the family contained no such information.

The appeal was dropped after Sheriff Sinclair sent a report to the Crown Office setting out his reasons for the sentence.

A spokesman for law firm Beltrami & Co, which defended the abuser in court, said the sheriff conceded in his report that his sentence was "wholly exceptional".

Among the factors they say he identified were a belief that the victim's family "were not seeking any form of retribution" and "held no ill-will" against the abuser or his family.

Judges do not need to publicly explain sentencing decisions, although the Judicial Office for Scotland said: "When sentencing, a sheriff deals with the offence that the accused has been convicted of, taking into account the circumstances of the particular case and the circumstances of all involved in the case."

The victim's family are not allowed to see the sheriff's report. But they believe too much weight was given to the abuser's supportive middle-class family background, educational attainment and career prospects.

The mum would like to ask the part-time sheriff - who is also chief executive of the taxpayer-funded Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission - for a more detailed account of his reasoning.

"I'd love to sit down with the sheriff and say 'Can you please explain, am I missing something?'," she said. "I think I would get more if I went to a supermarket and I stole something from there.

The family plan to write to Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, the head of the Crown Office, asking him to rethink the decision not to appeal.

"That's exactly what needs done and if it goes there and it falls through we've got a massive problem in Scotland," the mum said.

"We should all be fearful if that goes to appeal again and it doesn't get sorted and he doesn't get put on a sex offenders register."

After being approached by STV News, the Crown Office offered to meet with the family.

The family have sought help from Scottish Conservative shadow justice spokesman Liam Kerr, who supports their search for answers.

"I have spoken to the family and the facts of this case are deeply troubling and deeply affecting," he said.

"It's certainly a surprising sentence from my point of view.

"I think it would certainly help in this case and in many others if there was greater understanding about why the decisions are taken."