Ralph Clarke – 101 year old convicted of historic sexual abuse

Ralph Clarke – 101 year old convicted of historic sexual abuse

Photo from the BBC


A few decades ago the idea of trying someone in their nineties for things that allegedly happened many years before would have seemed an alien one

But, as society changes, and life expectancy increases, the courts have adapted and we have seen men well past their autumn years in what they would have known, when they were growing up, as the Assizes.

2016 saw the boundaries pushed, when Ralph Clarke became the first centenarian to be tried in the Crown Court. We looked at this case in the summer when the trial date was set and, on 16th December 2016, another record was set as he was found guilty of 21 counts relating to 2 women in the 1970s and 80s. It seems that during the trial he had admitted 9 counts against a separate boy.


What happened?

Details are pretty limited. We think that the offences were indecent assault and indecency with children, but this could cover a multitude of different offending.

Sentencing has been adjourned until Monday (with Mr Clarke remanded into custody), where it is likely that more details will be available.


What sentence will he get?

The Judge said that he will ““ponder with care” what sentence to pass. But there is no doubt that it will be a prison sentence, as he said “The reality is that he’s so old it’s unlikely he’ll be released back into the community”.

This case will present a difficult sentencing exercise. All historic cases are complex (we have a factsheet on this area here), but the difficulty will be that the sentence passed today will be a lot longer than it would have been had the trial been in the 1980s.

Against that, how is a Judge to weigh the fact that any prison sentence of more than nominal length is effectively a whole life tariff?

The Judge said that the public would be ‘horrified’ if Mr Clarke was not sent to prison (although there are undoubtedly some sections of the public who would be equally horrified at the idea of locking up a 101 year old), and it seems that the question will be one of length.

Another point to bear in mind is that one of the reasons that the sentences for sexual offences are so long is that they include an element of public protection. In this case, this is clearly not a relevant factor.

So we shall see on Monday how the Judge deals with this very difficult case.



  1. If only men would control their animal urges they could live their autumn years with family and loved ones instead of at her majesty’s pleasure.

  2. At that age, he’s likely to need specialist care in prison. I read on the BBC website that the trial could only be held until midday to allow him time to rest, and he was so hard of hearing that an intermediary had to repeat certain parts to him.
    Ordinarily, I’d expect something in range of 5-10 years. However, at 101, it’s debatable whether he’d live to be released even if he was only scheduled to serve half of that. The question is – do people want him to die in prison or not?
    P.S. There’s also a typo in this article. I think you meant to describe him as a ‘centenarian’ (person aged 100+) and not a ‘centurion’ (an officer in the Roman Army).

  3. He’s going to spend the rest of his life in the hospital wing of a prison – unless the time comes when the Prison medical Service say they cannot cope with him, which will probably happen unless he dies suddenly. What a wretched, sad end of a human life – even though L-E-S is right in saying that it his own fault.

    • I felt the article was written in such a manner as to evoke sympathy. Emphasis on his age, fraility and at least one emotive word ‘absurd’ thrown in for good measure. All of that may be true now but the reason I stamped down hard on the urge to feel sympathy for him is that I reminded myself of his victims.

      • There’s a point at which it just becomes absurd though right? Time has robbed the sentence of any meaningful deterrent effect and age has taken away any danger to the public or chance at rehabilitation. All that is left is society inflicting its vengeance, at enormous financial cost, on a very old man.

  4. Never thought I’d say this, but i agree with Sisterhood. He got away with it for so long.
    No one wants to see a 101 year old in jail. But no one wants to see crime go unpunished either. He’s had 101 years on the planet. Even if the next few are wasted in jail, he’s still had a longer ride than most of us will ever get!

  5. “Elephant in the room”, The historic complete failure of any type of system for children to report “child abuse” due to the strength of UK law protecting the offenders. Child abusers by the very nature of their psychology (aspergers / narcissism ) will strive to get themselves into positions of responsibility. Its a form of control and bullying which the UK judiciary is a perfect fit.

  6. Paul: that comment is beyond silly.

    The judge said that he presented as a frail old man but was without remorse.

    I expect both are true.

    I doubt if he will live long and the Prison Medical Service will have to turn his bed into an intensive care unit. But that’s the way it goes. He must be given the medical care he needs; and as far as I am concerned he can have it. And my contempt.