Ralph Clarke

A 101-year-old paedophile RAF veteran has lost his appeal against a sentence which he said was excessive because of his extreme old age.

Ralph Clarke was jailed for 13 years in December for a string of historic sex offences against three young children.

The former haulier, of Erdington, Birmingham, who showed no remorse, is thought to be the oldest person ever convicted in the UK.

His legal team told the Court of Appeal that the sentence passed should be one where it could be reasonably expected that the offender will serve the requisite custodial period.

Judges, however, said the approach of taking the factors of extreme old age and health into account in a limited way was the correct one.

"We are not persuaded that there should be any change in the position. Whilst we consider that an offender's diminished life expectancy, his age, health and the prospect of dying in prison are factors legitimately to be taken into account in passing sentence, they have to be balanced against the gravity of the offending - including the harm done to victims - and the public interest in setting appropriate punishment for very serious crimes."

The defence had argued that if it could not be reasonably expected that the guilty party would survive their sentence, the court was passing something akin to a whole life sentence - which the offender had not received.

The vulnerability of extreme old age was emphasised, with the court asked to treat old people as if they were terminally ill.

It was suggested Clarke should be treated as a special class of offender, like those under 18 and the mentally disordered - each of whom is subject to special consideration in sentencing.

On Thursday, however, five judges headed by Lady Justice Hallett said sentencing the very old must be done on a case-by-case basis and the court would require information specific to the particular offender.

They said both Clarke and retired GP Peter Cooper, 96, who began a three-year jail sentence in February for historic sex offences, were relatively fit and each had lived independently without any major health issue.

The judges found that in regard to the circumstances of Clarke's offending and his age and "relatively sprightly" condition, the sentence was not manifestly excessive.

In Cooper's case, they found that a custodial term of three years for offences of such seriousness could not be described as excessive, even for a man of 96.

As of December 2016, there were 219 prisoners aged between 80 and 89, 14 between 90 and 99 and one over 100.

Cover photo courtesy of West Midlands Police.