One of UK's oldest sex attackers who duped women with 'elderly gent' act avoids jail as judge says prison could kill him

ONE of Britain’s oldest sex offenders who duped women with an "elderly gentleman” act has avoided jail after a judge said it could kill him.

Ex-Royal Marine Richard Staves, 97, was spared jail today by a judge who said “harsher” prison conditions due to the pandemic could prove "lethal" for the attacker.

The offender was convicted last month of committing sex attacks against five women in Prison Lane, a secluded alleyway next to Exeter Prison, over an 18-month period from June 2016 and February 2018.

Judge Evans told Exeter Crown Court that Staves “duped” female strangers who were much younger than him by putting on a “lonely bereaved elderly gentleman" act.

Staves then "gained attention and sympathy to take their arm or touch their shoulder and deliberately touched them on their breast and between their legs in a sexual movement".

The judge said because of his age the women were reluctant to come forward and “for a while he got away with it”. 

The judge added that Staves had sexual urges after the death of his wife and searched for inappropriate ways of finding gratification. 

He said that Staves’ five victims were left “shocked, disgusted, feeling upset and humiliated” and lived in fear of seeing their attacker again.

Staves was today sentenced to 16 months in prison, suspended for two years, meaning he will likely avoid serving any time in prison. 

Judge Evans said jail conditions in the pandemic were “harsher” and would be “extremely onerous on a man of your age and infirmities and potentially lethal”. 

But the judge added: "Your final years will be lived in utter disgrace."

Judge Evans also slapped a ten-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order on the 97-year-old, which bans him from returning to Prison Lane or from approaching lone women. 

Staves previously denied all five accusations against him.

He said in his own evidence that he did not want to hug ugly women but did “take a liking” to women of “reasonable looking appearance”.

Staves denied groping his victims' breasts over their clothing and said he only gave them a peck on their cheek, adding he was not into “tonsil sucking”. 

Staves said he was a “huggy” sort of person but denied talking about his sex life with his late wife of 72 years.

And he denied trying to have sex with one young victim on a bench in daylight saying: "I'm not a dog."

Prosecutor Richard Crabb told Exeter Crown Court that four of his victims made personal victim statements in which they said they had been left feeling “violated and upset” by the attacks and fearful of walking in the dark alleyway.

Mr Crabb told the jury earlier in the trial: "Richard Staves is an elderly gentleman who the prosecution say should have known better than to behave in the way that is alleged in this case.

"This defendant befriended women – strangers – in the street and struck up conversations with them in order effectively to attract their sympathy by telling them how old he is, his wife had died and how lonely he was.

"He then abused any sympathy they felt towards him by touching them inappropriately, in a sexual manner, sexually assaulting them.

"The prosecution say he would be perfectly aware of the consequences of inappropriate conduct with female strangers."

Brian Fitzherbert, who defended Staves, described the offender as “a man who failed to deal appropriately with the loss of [his] long term companion”. 

He said Staves was a former Royal Marine who served in WW2 and had six children, 17 grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and one great, great grandchild.

Mr Fitzherbert said Staves was a “proud ex Royal Marine during WW2”, but now faces expulsion from the Royal Marine Association after the attacks. 

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