September 2017

Former lifeboatman is sentenced after being brought to justice for abuse of schoolgirl 15 years ago

A former lifeboatman who abused an underage girl – then tried to blame her for it – is starting a prison sentence.

Andrew Stonehouse, 56, was brought to justice more than 15 years after he repeatedly molested and kissed the schoolgirl in the 1990s.

Stonehouse, of Elwick Close, Redcar, admitted six charges of indecent assault and two of indecency with a child.

Yet he disputed her account of events, claiming he sexually assaulted her at an older age and on fewer occasions than she alleged.

He also claimed he had no sexual interest in children and denied paying her once for a sexual act.

His denials forced her to endure the ordeal of giving evidence and being cross-examined in the witness box at Teesside Crown Court.

Judge Deborah Sherwin said the complainant, now an adult, was an honest witness doing her best with the “impossible task” of recalling her childhood experiences.

She did not accept Stonehouse’s evidence, saying he changed his account and tried to switch blame to the victim.

His claim that the victim initiated sexual contact and propositioned him was “particularly unconvincing” and “unlikely”, she added.

She ruled today that Stonehouse instigated the sexual behaviour and once paid her £5.

In a statement, the victim spoke movingly of the effect of the protracted abuse on her and her relationships.

She said she felt confused, dirty, angry, asked about ways to kill herself and found it difficult to trust people.

“I sometimes have nightmares – not so much what he’s done, just that he doesn’t care that he’s done it and he’s laughing at me,” she said.

She felt she let herself down and felt guilty for not reporting it earlier, and hoped her insecurities would not rub off on her children.

Judge Sherwin said: “One of the sad things about it is victims are left blaming themselves, feeling dirty and guilty, thinking they should have done more.

“The reality is, they were children.”

Ian Mullarkey, defending, said allegations were made indirectly in 1999 and Stonehouse admitted wrongdoing.

But he was not arrested or prosecuted and, after delays in police contacting the girl, she did not feel able to make a formal complaint.

Instead Stonehouse was “offered a form of psychological counselling”, which he attended voluntarily.

She came forward last year as she struggled to live with the effects of the abuse.

References spoke of Stonehouse’s “exemplary” work record rising to senior positions and previous good character.

Mr Mullarkey said Stonehouse had not offended before or since: “This will be his first custodial sentence. It will be difficult for him.”

Judge Sherwin told the defendant: “A particularly unpleasant aspect, I feel, is that you’ve sought to blame her for the commencement of this behaviour.”

But she reduced Stonehouse’s sentence because he sought treatment in 1999, pleaded guilty earlier this year and led an otherwise “blameless life”.

Stonehouse was jailed for four-and-a-half years.

He was given a sexual harm prevention order banning him from contacting the victim and having unsupervised contact or working with under-16s, and will be on the sex offenders’ register, all indefinitely.