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Paedophile aged 101 starts 13-year prison sentence for historical sex offences

A 101-year-old paedophile thought to be the oldest man convicted by a British court is beginning a 13-year prison sentence after carrying out a string of historical sex offences against children.

Retired haulier 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 pleaded guilty to nine offences relating to a male victim part-way through a two-week trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

Sentencing on Monday, the judge 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."

Judge Richard Bond QC told the frail pensioner his offending against three vulnerable youngsters, one as young as four, had been "repeated and sustained".

He said the children had been "powerless" to stop former RAF serviceman Clarke, who would threaten and beat those who defied his word.

Mr Bond told him: "One of your victims remembers you as a nasty man, free with your fists and he would get belted by you."

Clarke would also try to "bribe" the other children after abusing them, offering them sweets money of "10 or 20p".

Praising the victims for coming forward and giving evidence, the judge contrasted the damage the offences had done to them with Clarke, whom he said had been "able to lead your life without being punished for your dreadful acts."

Throughout the sentencing on Monday, Clarke kept shaking his head and said "no, no, no", as the facts were recounted to him by the judge.

The judge also said that the case meant "those who have been sexually abused, either recently, or in the distant past can rest assured the police and courts will do all they can".

He added victims "need to know the passage of time does not mean they (their abusers) will escape justice".

Those who suffered at widower Clarke's hands branded him "evil" for his crimes, after he was convicted by a jury at the city's crown court on Friday last week.

Back in court to hear Britain's oldest prisoner formally sentenced, the three victims broke down in tears and hugged.

As frail Clarke was led out with the help of an intermediary, two dock officers, and his walking stick, he was heard asking how long he had been jailed for before being taken down.

The offences all took place in the cab of his lorry and a makeshift work-shed, as well as other places, with Clarke taking care to ensure he was never seen.

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 occurence.

She had later tried to take her own life because of her horrific ordeal at his hands.

Another of the victims told the court: "I should hate him, but that hatred could have eaten away at me and destroyed me."

After the ex-trucker's conviction by a jury last week, one of the women abused by Clarke, of Erdington, Birmingham, said he deserved to "rot in hell".

Clarke seemed unconcerned by the gravity of the charges against him throughout his trial, at one point saying while jurors were outside: "Well, it is Christmas - he (the judge) might send us all home.

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.

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 am rather hard.

"I take life as it comes."

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 which allowed the jury to convict their abuser.

Miss Fennon added: "Thankfully, today, justice has finally caught up with him."

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