A Dutch International beach volleyball player who travelled to Milton Keynes and raped a 12-year-old girl he met through Facebook was today jailed for four years.
Steven Van de Velde flew from Amsterdam to meet the city schoolgirl after the pair started chatting online.
The shamed sportsman, who was tipped for Olympic stardom, knew how young the girl was at the time he took her virginity.
Appearing via a prison video link dressed in a grey Nike sweatshirt, blond, tanned Van de Velde wept as he heard his victim, named in court as Miss A, had since self-harmed and taken an overdose.
A judge today said Van de Velde’s promising sporting career was a “shattered dream” and his actions had “wrecked his life” and caused his victim “enormous” emotional harm.
Aylesbury Crown Court heard how 21-year-old blond beach star had travelled to the UK in August 2014 and met up with his victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and taken her virginity.
Sandra Beck, prosecuting, said: “She describes that she had met Steven Van de Velde on Facebook, they spoke regularly through that and he made her feel special.
“She certainly made it clear she was seven years younger than him. This relationship over social media was taking place over a period of time.”
The volleyball player’s victim had added him as a friend on Facebook after he commented favourably on one of her photos.
They began to speak on a daily basis over Facebook, Snapchat and Skype before he arranged to visit her, arriving in Milton Keynes on August 2 2014.
The schoolgirl told her family she was staying with a friend and sneaked out to try and book a hotel with the older teenager, aged 19 years at the time. When they couldn’t find a room, they went to Furzton Lake in the town, where they drank Baileys and she gave him oral sex.
The following day, after the pair slept in cardboard boxes under a stairway at Premier Inn, having again been unable to book a room, she took him to her empty house and he took her virginity in her sister’s bedroom.
While he did not ejaculate inside her, and stopped when she said it hurt, before he returned to the Netherlands Van de Velde advised the girl to get the morning after pill as they had not used contraception.
It was her visit to a family planning clinic that alerted the authorities, who were called in due to the girl’s young age, just shy of her 13th birthday.
Van de Velde was part of the Dutch volleyball selection for three years and came seventeenth in the World Championship last year with his former teammate Michiel van Dorsten.
He was crowned Dutch champion with his co-player Dirk Boehlé last August - just three days before a European warrant was issued for his arrest on child sex charges - and would have otherwise been training with the 2016 Olympic team.
The sportsman, of Voorburg, the Netherlands, was extradited to the UK on January 8, when he was arrested on suspicion of the vile sex acts. He admitted three counts of rape against a child at an earlier hearing.
Linda Strudwick, defending, said it had been a “spur of the moment decision” to buy an Easyjet flight to Luton Airport and insisted Van de Velde was not a “predatory young man.”
She said: “This was a caring and loving relationship between two people, a girl who was nearly 13 and an older boy of 19, but one who was very young and more of an adolescent. The age gap is not quite so stark as it might prior have seemed.
“Steven did not come to this country for the purpose of having sex. He made it plain that as far as he was concerned she was too young. Miss A said she wanted to lose her virginity to him.”
Ms Strudwick said her client had shown genuine remorse and was devastated at his actions. He was a “steady” young man who did not fit the laddish sporting stereotype, having only had two previous sexual relationships between the ages of 16 to 18 years.
“Despite the good looks and fan base, Steven Van de Velde did not take advantage - he looks for love in a relationship,” she said.
“They began to chat on a daily basis and I ask this court to accept that this was not grooming. There was mutual support as two angst ridden juveniles.
“He’s lost a stellar sporting career and he’s being branded a rapist. In Holland the term means violent sexual assault without consent. The headlines say it all - ‘a sex monster.’ It’s plainly a career end for him.”
Sentencing him, Judge Francis Sheridan said: “You were a hugely talented athlete who enjoyed the adulation of the crowd but you also have a dark side and it is that that brought you to court.
“Prior to coming to this country you were training as a potential Olympian. Your hopes of representing your country now lie as a shattered dream.
“Your actions in those two days in England have wrecked your life and you could, had you never come to England and committed these offences, have been a leader in your sport.
“You had been in the UK for little over six hours when you allowed this girl to give you oral sex. That is rape on account of her age.
“She instigated that activity as she thought that was what you do when you are ‘in love’. That justifies why the law in England is as wise as it is in prohibiting a child from consenting.
“A young, naive foolish young child had formed the view that you loved her. In reality you only knew her on the Internet, had never met her before and were fully aware of the age difference.”
Judge Sheridan said it was not a case of sexual grooming, but added: “You were the adult, she was the child and until you recognise that you will remain a danger to young girls.
“The emotional harm that has been caused to this child is enormous. As she matures she will have to come to realise that you are not the nice man she thought you were and hoped you might be.”
The case left the Dutch beach volleyball scene in shock, with Michel Everaert, director of the sporting federation Nevobo, saying Van de Velde could have “made it all the way to the top.”
Van de Velde was jailed for four years for each count of rape, to run concurrently, and placed on the Sex Offender’s Register indefinitely.
Speaking outside court, Detective Sergeant Iain Roberts, of the Thames Valley Police child abuse investigation unit, said: “Steven Van de Velde had extensive contact with the victim, prior to these offences being committed, on social media and was fully aware of the victim’s age.
“Despite this Van de Velde, who was well respected in his home country for playing volleyball at a national level, travelled to the United Kingdom with the sole purpose of meeting the victim and subsequently raped her.
“I hope today’s sentence enables the victim and the family to be able to move forward from this deeply distressing point in their lives.”
The court had heard how Van de Velde’s child victim had been consumed with guilt in the wake of his arrest and felt responsible for him being in custody.
The pair had continued to speak online, with him sending her a request to follow him on Instagram as late as last November, until his legal team advised him against contact in the run up to court proceedings. He was today banned from contacting Miss A until she turns 18.