An army corporal who molested a friend’s daughter has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Sentencing Binod Rai at Bristol Crown Court yesterday, Judge James Patrick said the 44-year-old had served the country with distinction.

But he described the soldier as having had an unhealthy interest in the underage girl he assaulted.

Bristol jurors found Rai, of Pepper Place, Warminster, guilty earlier this week of sexual assault of a girl under 13 by touching.

On July 19 last year he had taken the girl with him as he went to collect his children from the railway station.

He got back to his home and moved the car. He got out the drivers’ seat and opened one of the rear passenger doors, where the girl was sitting.

Rai tickled her, touching her breast. He then asked her to lie on her back and tried to put his hand between her legs.

The assault came to an end when the girl’s father called his daughter. The girl's parents had not given their permission for Rai to take her.

A probation officer told the sentencing hearing on Friday afternoon that Rai did not accept he had done wrong. He had limited empathy with his victim and, when challenged, told the officer his young victim would have felt bad about what had happened but wasn’t able to expand upon the point.

Mitigating, John Lucas said the case was a bizarre one. He had been surprised when he first read his brief, that a man of “exemplary record and character...had got involved in something like this”. The barrister asked the judge to consider imposing a suspended sentence. “It is a pleading exercise, I plead on his behalf.”

Judge Patrick said the assault had been sustained but not planned. “This is not an abuse of trust but there is an abuse of position. You did not groom her, but you had an unhealthy interest.”

Rai was of positive previous good character having served the country with distinction. He had a family and, as a result of his conviction, would lose his job, his accommodation and possibly his right to remain in the UK.

He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and must abide by a sexual harm prevention order and sign onto the sex offenders’ register for life. He was also made subject to a five-year restraining order.