A Romany Gypsy man has been jailed for six years after admitting having sex with his 12-year-old "wife" whom he had married abroad before moving to Essex.

The 25-year-old Romanian national was caged for statutory rape at Chelmsford Crown Court on Monday (9 October) after he admitted having sex with a child under the age of 13.

The girl is now pregnant and due to give birth in weeks after they illegally married in their native country, despite the age of consent being 16, the same as the UK.

The couple cannot be named due to legal reasons but the court heard that the girl had already returned to Romania after living for a period in Essex.

Prosecuting Jamie Sawyer said: "(The couple) met in Romania and in the victim's view, no one complained about the age gap between them.

"She has gone back to Romania, and the defendant says how he has a wish to reignite that relationship when he is able."

Police lifted the lid on the illegal marriage on 7 April when a car was stopped at a car wash in Epping and they discovered the couple and two children.

A search of the home they shared revealed a double bed where the Romanian man and the girl shared a bed.

Defending the man Laura Kenyon said he had got "caught up" in what was a "widespread practice" in the man's traditional culture.

"There is no grooming, exploitation, force or coercion in this case. This was consent within a marriage, albeit an unlawful marriage," said Kenyon.

"This is a widespread practice, an ancient custom that is still used today. The marriage of a young girl and older man is not an extraordinary event in their culture. He is following that tradition and is caught up in it."

Sentencing, Judge Patricia Lynch said according to the Daily Express: "Sexual activity with children is against the law and we are dealing with a 12-year-old child, no matter what the customs are in another land.

"She is a child expecting a child I am told in a few short weeks and I am told she will not have an education in Romania.

She continued: "This is not a case of informed consent. Children need to be protected from others and from their selves."

The man will also spend 10 years on the sex offenders register.