A 97-year-old World War Two veteran has denied groping or kissing five women he accosted in an alleyway near his home.

Richard Staves told the women he was lonely after the death of his wife and used their sympathy and desire to help him as cover for his sexual assaults, Exeter Crown Court was told.

The former Royal Marine allegedly touched one of them on their private parts through their clothing and grabbed or brushed the breasts of others. He pressed himself so tight against one of them that they could feel his genitals.

Staves lived just yards away from the steep alley known as Prison Lane which runs up the hill from Blackall Road to Howell Road in Exeter, and walked up and down it daily over the 20 months when the alleged assaults took place.

Some of the women stopped to help him as he struggled up the hill or was clinging to a railing for support while taking a breather.

Only one reported it at the time but others went to the police after hearing of the other alleged assaults on Facebook.

Prison Lane, next to Exeter Prison

Staves, aged 97, of Hoopern Street, Exeter, denies five counts of sexual assault against five different women between June 2016 and February 2017.

Richard Crabb, prosecuting, said Staves had been cautioned by police for sexually assaulting a woman on a bus shortly before the first incident.

He said: ”The defendant is an elderly man who the prosecution say should have known better than to behave in this way. It is alleged he befriended woman strangers in the street and struck up conversations with them in order attract their sympathy.

“He told them how old he was, that his wife had died, and how lonely he was. He abused any sympathy they might have felt by touching them in an inappropriate manner and sexually assaulting them.”

Mr Crabb detailed the allegations of each of the women, all of whom are entitled to lifetime anonymity. He said they were left shocked, frightened, alarmed and confused.

Complainant A used to walk up Prison Lane on her way from work at around 4.30pm and had spoken to Staves several times before he assaulted her as she helped him up the hill.

He started walking closer to her and became emotional while talking about his late wife. Woman A became uncomfortable when he spoke about his former sex life but also felt sorry for him.

On the last occasion they met, he grabbed her breast quite forcibly and she had to pull away to disengage. She had to change her daily routine to avoid Prison Lane and reported the assault after reading of similar incidents on Facebook.

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Woman B had never met Staves before but spoke to him as she walked up the lane. He got closer and closer and then hugged her.

She was confused and hugged him back but he then pressed against her so hard she could feel his penis through their two sets of clothing.

Woman C was also a stranger, who met Staves on a bench at the bottom of Prison Lane while waiting for a lift to work. She had several chats in which he told her about his wife but became more and more tactile.

On their final meeting, he ran a hand over her thigh so it brushed her vagina over her clothing. She never went back to the bench again.

Woman D was pushing a pram when Staves joined her, steadying himself on the pram handle. He tried to hug her and then touched the top of her breast over her clothing. She tried to break away but he clung on and squeezed her breast again.

Woman E was walking down Prison Lane when she saw Staves propping himself up on a railing and taking a rest while on his way up. She spoke to him but he grabbed her and kissed her several times, turning her face back when she tried to turn away.

She left in a state of shock and close to tears and contacted the police after reading of the other women’s experiences on Facebook.

Mr Crabb said all the women picked out Staves in video identification procedures and he made no comment in interview.

He told the jury Staves was cautioned in 2016 for approaching a woman on a bus, touching her bra and stroking her thigh.

The trial continues.





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