A Southampton man has denied drugging and raping three young children as part of a catalogue of attacks on the youngsters.

Darren Mackrell pleaded not guilty to 18 charges in connection with alleged attacks on two boys and a girl, all aged under 13, when he appeared at Southampton Crown Court yesterday.

The 45-year-old, of Wilton Avenue, Southampton, is accused of raping all three youngsters on April 21 this year.

Police officers were drafted in to guard courtroom three for yesterday’s 35- minute hearing.

Dressed in a dark pink T-shirt and grey tracksuit trousers, Mackrell stood in the dock with his arms held in front of him as he confirmed his not guilty pleas to each of the counts against him.

As well as three charges of rape, he is accused of sexually assaulting each of the children, forcing them to watch pornographic images and administering a substance with intent – a charge that claims he gave them drugs in an attempt to stupefy or overpower them to take sexual advantage of them.

Mackrell, who has been held in custody since the alleged incident, is also accused of two counts each of inciting the boys to engage in sexual activity with him, and also with the girl.

All offences relating to all three children are said to have taken place on the same day.

In addition, Mackrell also denied two further charges relating to a separate incident in Atherley Road, Southampton, on April 9, over which he is accused of damaging a door and of having a bladed article.

The prosecution claim he had a folding pocket knife that was taped open.

Judge Susan Evans QC told Mackrell, who was again remanded in custody, he will now face trial for all 20 charges later this summer, on a date yet to be fixed.