Former Castle Howard manager Simon Howard sexually abused a young girl at his famous family estate – but he will not receive a jail sentence after a brain injury meant he could not stand trial.
The aristocrat, 65, was in his 20s when he abused the girl in the gatehouse of the estate in 1984.
A York Crown Court jury found that he committed indecent assault and incited a child to commit an indecent act.
But Howard, now of Wellham Road, Norton, Malton, was found not fit to stand trial due to a brain injury he suffered in a fall following his arrest.
Prosecutor Michael Smith said that in 1984, the young victim – who described Howard then as a “monster” – was staying at the famous stately home when she was sexually assaulted by Howard who also asked her to perform a sex act on him.
Howard had run the family estate – used as a backdrop to films and TV programmes such as Brideshead Revisited and Bridgerton – for about 30 years and initially lived in the Gatehouse before moving into the main house shortly after the attack.
The girl, who was six or seven at the time, told her mother, who confronted Howard, but the defendant denied that any sexual touching took place.
Lived with the abuse
The victim did not go to police until early 2018, more than 30 years after the offences occurred.
Mr Smith said this may have been because of Howard’s status as an “important person”.
Howard was brought in for questioning but denied the offences and was “adamant” that nothing sexual had occurred.
He didn’t say that the girl was lying but claimed that she had “misunderstood” the situation or had “confused this event with other events in her life”.
He claimed that he and the child had had a “discussion” but there was “nothing sinister”.
Mr Smith told jurors that Howard had beckoned the girl towards him before indecently assaulting her. He then told her to kiss an intimate part of his body.
“She has lived with this abuse (ever) since,” said Mr Smith.
“She said there were times when she contemplated reporting matters to police…(but) she didn’t until early 2018.”
Memories of the sexual assault had “permeated her life” for over 30 years.
Robbed her childhood
Mr Smith said the victim, now a middle-aged mother, had told her husband about the incident before going to police.
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said in a statement how Howard’s attacks had robbed her of her childhood innocence and profoundly affected her into adulthood.
“It’s certainly a part of who I am (now),” she added.
“I don’t think anyone needs to be told how or why it is wrong for an adult man to sexually abuse a (very-young) girl.
“For a long time, I pushed my memory of what happened 38 years ago as far out of my mind as possible.”
She said those memories had been revived when her own children reached the age at which she was sexually abused.
“The childhood monster came rushing back to the surface,” she said.
“I began to reflect more on what had happened, and on the shame and fear and dirtiness that I felt as a child afterwards. It was my innocence and trust that was most damaged.
“Looking back, I can see how vulnerable I was, partly due to chaotic family circumstances.”
She said Howard had used his position as a powerful aristocrat to take advantage of her and sexually abuse her.
Mr Smith said she felt “anger and indignation” at the “casual way in which (Howard) was able to take something so precious from her”.
After being quizzed by officers about the offences, Howard had a fall which left him with permanent brain damage.
Psychiatrists for both the prosecution, defence and the court confirmed that the damage was irreparable, and that Howard was unfit to face trial. As such, he was not in court either for his trial or sentence.
Reporting restrictions had prevented media coverage of the trial because Howard was due to face another trial in absentia after being accused of attempting to rape and indecent assault a woman at Castle Howard between June 2003 and February 2004.
However, today (Tuesday, November 16) judge Sean Morris, the Recorder of York, lifted all reporting restrictions after the prosecution said it would not be in the public interest to proceed with the second set of allegations.
The alleged victim in that case had agreed to this and the allegations, including two of attempted rape, were allowed to lie on court file.
However, Howard was placed on the sex-offenders’ register for five years, which is automatic for such offences.
Judge Sean Morris, the Recorder of York, said: “This defendant falls to be sentenced following a finding of fact case, which was conducted at York Crown Court.
“The defendant, of course, could not give evidence about the allegations and the jury found that he did the acts alleged against him, and that was the indecent assault against a little girl, aged six or seven, at Castle Howard back in 1984.”
The judge said a delay in prosecuting Howard was “unacceptable” and he may have been able to stand trial if he had been charged earlier.
He said: “It is to be regretted that there was undue considerable delay in the processing of the prosecution case.
“Had this case proceeded with proper expedition it may well have been that the defendant could have stood his trial and given evidence.”
He added: “It was between his interview with the police and the day of the fact-finding that the defendant had a fall, from which he suffered brain damage.”
The judge said the only sentencing option available to him was one of absolute discharge.