A former RUC reservist and convicted sex offender was handed a suspended sentence on Thursday for committing a lewd act in front of children at a garden centre on two separate occasions.
John Stanfield, who began offending aged 75 when he abused a nine-year old girl, committed an act outraging public decency at Hillmount Garden Centre on February 27 last year, and again on March 13.
As well as committing the lewd act, the 85-year old from Rosetta Park in Belfast also breached the terms of a previously imposed Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) twice.
He appeared at Belfast Crown Court where he was handed a 12-month sentence, which was suspended for two years, by Judge Paul Ramsey. He also had the length of his SOPO extended by two years - meaning it will expire in 2023 - while the length of time he will spent on the Sex Offenders Register was also extended until 2029, when Stanfield will be 96.
Before passing sentence, Judge Ramsey was told that on both occasions at the garden centre, neither the children nor their parents were aware of Stanfield’s behaviour, which was reported to police by members of staff.
Prosecuting barrister Kate McKay said that under the terms of a SOPO, Stanfield was banned from frequenting or loitering in places associated with children.
Noting that the garden centre included a children’s play area, Ms McKay said that on February 27 last year, staff at Hillmount noticed a male acting suspiciously in the shop.
He was seen standing beside a woman and a girl aged around five with his hand in his coat pocket rubbing his crotch area, prompting staff to believe he was pleasuring himself. Stanfield then left after buying a packet of marshmallows.
On March 13, Stanfield returned to the garden centre and once again came to the attention of staff. He sat at a table in the cafe beside a woman and girl aged around five, where he sat facing the girl with his legs wide open and slouched in the chair for around 30 minutes.
When the woman and child left the cafe, he followed them out a door but returned 15 minutes later and ordered more coffee. He again positioned himself close to table where a young girl was present.
Stanfield was interviewed by police on March 14, and when he was presented with CCTV footage from the garden centre, he confirmed his presence but denied touching himself.
Ms McKay closed the Crown’s case by saying Judge Stanfield had 23 previous convictions for similar offences, and that he started offending in 2009 when he was 75.
A defence barrister pointed out that on both occasions at Hillmount, there was “no direct contact with these children, who were oblivious to it.”
He said Stanfield accepted he had a problem that needed to be addressed, spoke of the “stress and shame” he has brought on his family and has since expressed remorse.
The barrister also revealed that due to his time spent as an RUC reservist during the troubles, his elderly client has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of what he witnessed, which has “manifested itself in a number of different ways.”
Asking for leniency, the defence barrister urged Judge Ramsey not to send Stanfield to prison as he is the sole carer for his wife, who is 86 and in ill health.
Branding the case as “somewhat troubling”, Judge Ramsey cited the offences as “serious” and noted they were committed whilst Stanfield was under a suspended sentence.
Judge Ramsey praised the staff at Hillmount for their vigilance in reporting the matter to police, adding it was fortunate the children and parents were unaware of Stanfield’s behaviour.
After handing the pensioner a suspended sentence, he was told by the Judge: “This is your last chance. Adhere to the terms of the SOPO, avoid the places where you have been told not to go. Concentrate on the care of your wife and stay away from these places.
“It’s very much on your shoulders and in your hands. If you don’t, you will be back in court and will not be dealt with as leniently.”