A 101-year-old paedophile has been jailed for 13 years for committing a string of sex offences against young children in the 1970s and 1980s.
Retired lorry driver Ralph Clarke had already been warned to expect a significant custodial sentence for 17 offences of indecent assault, 11 of indecency with a child and two attempted serious sexual assaults.
Clarke, believed to be the oldest person ever convicted by a jury in Britain, pleaded guilty to nine offences relating to a male victim part-way through a two-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court and was subsequently convicted of 21 further counts against two young girls.
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 his victims on a work bench.
His youngest victim was four when the abuse began.
Clarke sat impassively as his sentence was read out while his three victims broke down in tears and hugged.
During his trial, Clarke, from Erdington, Birmingham, told the jury of six men and six women he was “pretty well immune” to feelings.
He told the court from the witness box: “I had always got a pile of kids around the garage because I used to repair all the bikes for them. They’d come from all over.”
Judge Richard Bond QC told him: “You present as a fragile old man; however, what was plain to see was that, despite your guilty pleas, you have no remorse whatsoever.”
The former RAF serviceman, who was born in March 1915, was brought to justice after his female victims – now in their late 40s – came forward when they saw his 100th birthday celebrations on Facebook.
West Midlands Police said after the police investigation began the male victim also came forward. He was indecently assaulted on numerous occasions and subjected to several rape attempts while he was an infant schoolboy.
In court Clarke claimed his victims were serial liars and “could have said no” but one of his victims said he was “evil” and deserved to “rot in hell”.
Recounting the victims’ evidence in court, the judge said one of the women had – as a child – “feared you, as you were a big man”, and that the abuse was a daily occurrence, which had later led her to attempt to take her own life.
Another of the victims told the court: “I should hate him, but that hatred could have eaten away at me and destroyed me.”
The judge told Clarke he had considered his “age and infirmity” but the abuse was “so severe” only a lengthy jail term could be imposed.
He told the centenarian – who suffers with respiratory issues, diabetes and significant limitations of his hearing, sight and mobility – the impact of jail would be “enormous”.
At a previous hearing, Mr Bond had said “the reality is he is so old it will be amazing if he is released back into the community”, with his own barrister accepting it would effectively be “a life sentence” for Clarke.
On Monday, the pensioner was told he would serve half his jail term – just over six years – in prison, before he could even be considered for parole.
Clarke seemed unconcerned by the gravity of the charges against him throughout his two-week trial, at one point saying while jurors were outside: “Well, it is Christmas – he (the judge) might send us all home.”
Outside court, Detective Constable Emma Fennon, of West Midlands Police’s historic sex offences unit, said: “He subjected three young children – who were aged between four and 13 years old at the time – to unspeakable abuse over many years.
“He took advantage of their vulnerability and they have lived with the emotional and psychological scars from that abuse for decades.”
She also paid tribute to the victims’ “courage and determination” in coming forward decades after the abuse and giving compelling evidence that allowed the jury to convict their abuser.
She added: “Thankfully, today, justice has finally caught up with him.”
Commenting on the case, a spokesman for the NSPCC said: “Clarke not only inflicted appalling abuse on his victims, he put them through the harrowing ordeal of a crown court trial – and did not show a shred of remorse throughout.
“This case sends out a clear message that it is never too late for survivors of abuse to speak out. The trial could not have happened without their courage, and it is vital they now get the support they need to help them move forward with their lives.”
Additional reporting by PA