Aristocrat Simon Howard sexually abused child at family's Castle Howard estate
An aristocrat who sexually abused a young girl at his famous family estate in North Yorkshire will not receive a jail sentence after a brain injury meant he could not stand trial.
Simon Howard, whose family are the custodians of Castle Howard – the North Yorkshire stately home used as a backdrop to films and TV programmes such as Brideshead Revisited and Bridgerton – abused the girl in the gatehouse of the estate in 1984.
He was was given an absolute discharge at York Crown Court on Tuesday after a jury found that he committed indecent assault and incited a child to commit an indecent act during a trial of facts in October.
He was previously found unfit to stand trial after suffering brain damage in a fall.
The jury was told that Howard was living in the gatehouse of Castle Howard, between York and Malton, when he committed the offences.
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.
The complainant reported the offences to the police in 2018 and Howard was interviewed and later charged.
The jury said it was satisfied that Howard, 65, committed both the acts following a week-long trial.
On Tuesday, Michael Smith, prosecuting, read the woman’s victim personal statement to the court, in which she said she wanted to “give a voice to the voiceless six-year-old girl that was me”.
Mr Smith said: “She grieves and feels wretched sadness for her six-year-old self, who should have been safe but wasn’t.”
He added: “She feels angry, not for revenge, but indignation for the casual way the defendant was able to take something so precious from her with, up to now, so little consequence to himself.
“The abuse was swept under the carpet, something not spoken about. It felt to her it was her shame being covered up, not his.”
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.
Howard was also charged with attempted rape against a different complainant, but Mr Smith told the court the Crown had concluded it would not be in the public interest to proceed with these allegations, which will now lie on file.