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A former Royal Marine, who has been dubbed one of the oldest sex offenders at the age of 97, has been spared jail.
World War Two veteran Richard Staves avoided jail despite a judge saying the his offences "passed the custody threshold" over fears the "harsher" conditions behind bars could prove "lethal".
Judge David Evans handed Staves a 16-month jail term suspended for two years, and ordered that he be put on the sex offenders register for ten years, reports The Sun.
Exeter Crown Court heard how Staves targeted five women in an alley called Prison Lane in Exeter, Devon, over an 18-month period between June 2016 and February 2018.
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He "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".
Staves previously denied all five accusations against him and groping the victims' breasts over their clothing, claiming he only gave them a peck on the cheek.
Prosecutor Richard Crabb told the court four of the victims said they felt 'violated and upset' in personal victim statements.
Mr Crabb told the jury earlier in the trial that Staves would attract the victim's sympathy by telling them how old he is, his wife had died and how lonely he was.
He said: "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, defending, said Staves is 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.”
The Judge said "harsher" prison conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic could prove "lethal" and handed Staves a suspended sentence for two years.
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