A 97-year-old war veteran has been found guilty of molesting five women who he waylaid in an alleyway near his home.

Richard Staves targeted lone women and exploited their sympathy when they stopped to help him up the steep lane next to Exeter Prison.

He complained about being lonely after the death of his wife and then tried to kiss or hug them, squeeze their breasts, or in one case, to touch her private parts over clothing.

Staves, who fought with the Royal Marines in World War II, is a great, great grandfather who claimed that he lost interest in sex many years ago.

He said he was just being friendly and tactile with the women and said there was nothing sexual about his physical contact with them.

All of the sexual assaults happened in Prison Lane, Exeter, between late 2016 and February 2017 and only came to light after one of his last victims shared her experience on Facebook, leading all to go to the police.

The victims included a student, a young mother pushing a buggy, and a woman who Staves befriended as she waited for a lift on a bench at the entrance to the lane.

He had been cautioned by police only a few weeks before the first attack after he admitted stroking a woman’s thigh and touching her bra as she sat next to him on a bus.

Prison Lane, next to Exeter Prison

Retired plumber Staves, of Hoopern Road, Exeter, denied five counts of sexual assault but was found guilty by a jury at Exeter Crown Court.

Judge David Evans adjourned sentence to allow his defence team to supply more medical information but told Staves he is likely to receive a suspended sentence.

He said:”My thinking is around the pandemic situation, which is serious in custody, and I am aware of the Court of Appeal guidance which says I should look very carefully at suspending any sentence I impose where immediate custody would likely lead to an outcome which would be very difficult to bear.

“The custody threshold is quite clearly passed and custody is inevitable, but it can be suspended.”

During a three-day trial the jury heard from the five women how Staves joined them as they walked up the lane or engaged them in conversation as they passed him.

Two said that he groped their breasts, another said he pinned her against the prison wall so tightly she could feel his genitals through their clothing, and another said he kissed her against her will.

Only one assault took place outside the lane and that was on a bench where he rubbed his hand over the woman’s thighs, touching her private parts over clothing.

Staves told the jury he is a huggy sort of a person who may have given some of the five women a ‘friendly peck on the cheek’ but insisted there was nothing sexual about his behaviour.

He said: “I conversed with anybody. I am very old-fashioned. I say good morning to people, men and women, all the time. Oh, yes, I touch them in a friendly way. I used no force, that would be completely against my nature.

“I have held onto people’s arms as I went up the hill. It has helped me physically and mentally. My eyesight is very poor, as is my hearing. I am slipping away fast. I did not recognise any of the women who gave evidence.

“I may have put an arm around their shoulder in a friendly manner. I don’t recall touching any breasts. I may have kissed them, but if so, it was a friendly peck on their left cheek, nothing else. There was no tongue touching. I consider that to be insanitary.

“I might have been over friendly with a woman who I sat with on a bench at the bottom of the lane but it was not for a sexual reason. I probably put my hand on her leg to emphasise something.

“There was never any sexual reason. My sex life has left me for a very long time, I can assure you; a very long time, it is historical. I was brought up to never discuss my sex life at all.”

In cross examination, he said he had been very lonely since the death of his wife and was a huggy sort of person, but said he would be more likely to hug a woman stranger if she was attractive.

He said:”I might hug someone if I took a liking to them. She must be of reasonable good-looking appearance. I would not want to hug with an ugly person. I would never hug a man unless it was an old comrade or someone like that.

“I never shoved anyone or used any force. I would not use force unless it was against a man who was trying to clobber me, but I would be a bit of a demon then.”

He said he did touch the inner thigh of the woman he met on the bench but said he had no intention of sexually assaulting her.

He said:”I did not do it for a sexual reason. Blow me down, I am not going to do it on a bench in the middle of the town in broad daylight. I am not a dog.”





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