A 101-year-old paedophile has become Britain’s oldest prison inmate after being warned to expect a double-figure jail term for committing a string of historical child sex offences.
Retired lorry driver Ralph Clarke showed no emotion as a judge told him it would be “amazing” if he managed to live long enough to be released back into the community.
Clarke, from Erdington, Birmingham, was allowed to keep his white walking stick as he was remanded in custody and taken to the cells at the city’s Crown Court.
Jurors deliberated over two days before convicting Clarke of 21 offences of indecency with a child and indecent assault committed against two young girls in the 1970s and 1980s.
Former RAF serviceman Clarke admitted nine charges relating to a young boy part-way through his trial after describing the offences against him as “something that happened” in his past.
Throughout the case Clarke seemed unconcerned by the gravity of the charges, at one point saying while jurors were outside “Well, it is Christmas - he (the judge) might send us all home.”
The centenarian remained impassive as he was found guilty of abusing the female victims, one aged as young as seven, in a makeshift workshop and the cab of his lorry.
Clarke, who will be sentenced on Monday, briefly shook his head as his counsel and prosecutor Miranda Moore QC discussed legal guidelines governing sentencing for sexual offences.
Pointing out that the offences had caused severe psychological harm to the victims, Judge Richard Bond told the court: “I have to say the sentence I am looking at at the moment is in double figures.
“I will have to discount (the sentence) for the offender’s extreme age, although there is of course the argument that he has been able to live in the community for decades now, when in fact he should have served a custodial sentence for this offending all those years ago.
“The reality is he is so old it will be amazing if he is released back into the community.”
The judge added: “The public would be horrified if I didn’t send him to prison.
“There are so many things that need to be said as part of the sentencing exercise and careful thought needs to be put into the sentence of this particularly exceptional defendant - and I use the word exceptional simply in relation to his age.
“I want to ponder with care about the sentence I will impose.”
Explaining his decision to remand the pensioner in custody for the weekend, the judge went on: “Mr Clarke has been convicted of sexually abusing three separate victims.
“There is always the possibility he might not turn up. What really preys upon my mind is the real possibility he might do something to stop the sentencing taking place.
“And accordingly I am going to remand him into custody over the weekend.”
During his trial, Clarke 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 don’t know. I am rather hard.
“I take life as it comes. 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.”
Defence counsel Darron Whitehead said Clarke would turn 102 next March and suffered from respiratory issues, diabetes and significant limitations of his hearing, sight and mobility.
Mr Whitehead said of the jail term Clarke faces: “In real terms it is a life sentence and the reality is he will not be released. We do ask you to bear that in mind.”
In a statement issued after the case, Detective Constable Emma Fennon, from West Midlands Police’s Historic Sex Offences Unit, 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.
“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 under-estimate the courage needed to speak out.”
Claire Nicholls, Senior Crown Prosecutor from the West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service’s Rape & Serious Sexual Offences Unit, said of Clarke: “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 prosecution.”