101-year-old man found guilty of 21 child sex offences

Ralph Clarke is believed to be the oldest defendant in British legal history

Caroline Mortimer
Friday 16 December 2016 13:42 GMT
The jury found former lorry driver Ralph Clarke guilty on all counts
The jury found former lorry driver Ralph Clarke guilty on all counts (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

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A 101-year-old man thought to be Britain’s oldest defendant has been found guilty of 21 counts of child sex abuse.

Ralph Clarke was convicted at Birmingham Crown Court of abusing two young girls during the 1970s and 1980s.

The retired lorry driver, who was born in March 1915, pleaded guilty part-way through his trial to another nine sexual offences committed against a young boy in the 1970s.

A further 10 offences were dropped by prosecutors before the trial began.

The offences are believed to have been carried out between 1974 and 1983 in his lorry, in a garage workshop and in his garden shed after he placed them on a work bench.

His youngest victim was just four when the abuse began.

West Midlands Police said the women – now in their late 40s – plucked up the courage to come forward after seeing Facebook posts celebrating Clarke’s 100th birthday.

After the police investigation began it emerged another child, a boy, had also been abused. He was indecently assaulted on numerous occasions and subjected to several rape attempts while he was an infant schoolboy.

In court, Clarke claimed the victims were serial liars and “could have said no” but the jury found him guilty on all counts on Friday.

Detective Constable Emma Fennon from West Midlands Police’s specialist Historic Sex Offences Unit said it was important to secure justice for his victims regardless of his age.

Ralph Clarke claimed his victims were ‘serial liars’ who ‘could have said no’ 

 Ralph Clarke claimed his victims were ‘serial liars’ who ‘could have said no’ 

She said: “There may be people who question the merits of taking a 101-year-old man to court − but age alone is no defence against prosecution.

“Those he assaulted had to live with the suffering he inflicted on them for decades; they have had a life sentence in that respect and I hope they can take some comfort from the fact Clarke has finally been made to pay.

“Clarke subjected innocent children to truly shocking abuse over a prolonged period. I’d like to thank them for their bravery in coming forward and disclosing what happened so we could take action against him; we never underestimate the courage needed to speak out.”

Claire Nicholls, Senior Crown Prosecutor at the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service, added: “Ralph Clarke used fear and intimidation to control his victims and sexually abuse them.

“He took full advantage of their young age and the situation in which they found themselves in order to carry out his offences − and for over 40 years Clarke thought he’d got away with his crimes.

“Due, however, to the courage of the victims we were able to bring this defendant to justice and I would like to take this opportunity to praise the victims for their support throughout this difficult and sensitive case.”

Commenting on the conviction, a spokesman for children’s charity, the NSPCC, said: “Ralph Clarke manipulated vulnerable children to carry out a sickening campaign of abuse.

“His claim that one of his victims ‘had every choice’ and ‘could have said yes or no’ is a shocking insight into his lack of understanding of the devastating impact abuse has on a child.

“By bravely speaking out, his victims have brought him to justice after all these years. It shows survivors of child sexual abuse will be listened to, no matter who – or how old - the abuser is, or how long ago it happened.”

Clarke’s conviction means he overtakes Gaston Pinsardas as the oldest convicted paedophile in the UK. Pinsard was 96 when he was given an 18-month sentence in 2015 for sexually abusing two girls over 50 years ago.

He sat impassively in the dock while the guilty verdicts were read out. He is expected to be sentenced next week.

Additional reporting by PA

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