An award-winning North Ayrshire Council Youth Worker has been found guilty of sexually assaulting three young women - while pretending to carry out health checks with a stethoscope.

Paul Gillespie, 23, examined three young women in his car on numerous occasions between November 2015 and December 2016 in Irvine, Ardrossan, Stevenston and elsewhere.

The assaults took place while Gillespie was giving them lifts, often in a North Ayrshire Council vehicle.

Gillespie, of Inverclyde View in Largs, denied the three charges against him but was found guilty after trial this week at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.

The court heard from the witnesses that young people were often given lifts to and from events by youth workers on a casual basis and that this was approved by North Ayrshire Council.

All the girls, who suffer from various medical conditions, stated in court that they thought Gillespie, a trained First Aider and volunteer First Responder, was genuinely helping them and did not believe they had been assaulted until another youth worker found out and reported him.

Gillespie assaulted one of the girls, whom he supervised at Skelmorlie Youth Group, when she was just 15.

He would ask her to lift up her t-shirt and touch her on the body, including her breasts, with a stethoscope.

The girl, who suffers from asthma, told how on one occasion Gillespie pulled over during a car journey because he claimed he was concerned about her breathing.

Sobbing as she gave evidence, she said: “I felt uncomfortable, I felt vulnerable. I thought he was doing it in my best interests.”

Another girl was assaulted by Gillespie on numerous occasions and knew him through her involvement with North Ayrshire’s Youth Executive Committee.

Gillespie would ask the girl, who was then 17 and 18, to lift up her t-shirt and would touch her body with his stethoscope and hands.

The witness cried when she recalled Gillespie assaulting her during a lift home from a North Ayrshire Council Participatory Budgeting event.

She said: “It was the day after my dad died. I was very vulnerable at that point in time and Paul was the only person I could trust. I confided in him and I felt he used it against me. He would say, ‘I’m doing this to look out for you’. Then he would say, ‘Don’t tell anyone, this is between me and you’.”

A third young woman, who knew Gillespie through her involvement with North Ayrshire Council Services, said he would ask her to lift up her t-shirt and touch her on the body, including her breasts, with his stethoscope.

He also checked her blood pressure and blood sugar on one occasion. The court heard that the girl often asked Gillespie for medical advice.

She said: “He always explained what he was going to do. He would always say, ‘I’m doing this as a friend, not your youth worker and it’s between us’. I was uncomfortable, but I trusted him more than I did other people.”

Fiscal Jennifer Harkins said: “There is an element of coercion in this case. The witnesses didn’t think there was anything untoward in what he was doing. They viewed him as a friend and a youth worker. He was in a position of trust and he abused that position. They said yes just to get these examinations over quickly.

The accused’s evidence is entirely different to what these three girls are all saying. He used the excuse that it was because it was “off the books” but the crown submission would be that it was because he knew what he was doing was not right.”

But Gillespie’s solicitor Neil McPherson suggested that Gillespie had been merely trying to make himself seem important.

He added: “We never heard of any inappropriate comments, we never heard of any inappropriate behaviour. Paul Gillespie’s guilt is that he is somebody who wanted to impress these girls. The high point is that at no time did these girls think there was anything wrong and if it was done for sexual gratification it would have been more abusive.”

But Sheriff Michael Hanlon said that he was “satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an assault has taken place” and found Gillespie guilty on all three charges.

He called for reports and a full risk assessment and placed Gillespie on the Sex Offenders Register.

Gillespie will return to the court early next year for sentencing.

Council respond to claims

North Ayrshire Council has defended revelations about the authority which were mentioned in court during the Paul Gillespie trial.

It was confirmed by witnesses that youth workers routinely offered young group members lifts in their cars.

These lifts, which often resulted in Gillespie being alone in a car at night with young females, were not always done through official channels but were approved by North Ayrshire Youth Services.

It was also mentioned in court that youth workers were not provided with a council phone for use in the service.

Therefore, young people would contact their youth workers via their personal numbers.

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “This former employee resigned in November 2016 and we were alerted to these allegations the following March in 2017.

“All our Youth Workers are all PVG checked, attend regular safeguarding training and operate to the Council’s Code of Conduct.

“We also operate to clear guidance in relation to lone working. Clearly the standards displayed by this individual fell very short of these requirements.

“We take the issues raised by this case very seriously.

“We already continually review our policies and procedures and will continue to do so should there be learning from the court case.”