A sex pest who attacks women on buses and trains has been spared jail after a judge was persuaded to give him one last chance.
William Strickson, a former tourist-information worker from Pickering, breached the terms of a sexual-harm prevention order by travelling on public transport unaccompanied and assaulting a female student on a Coastliner bus, York Crown Court heard.
He admitted both offences, which occurred in December last year, but denied another charge of sexually assaulting the same young woman.
The prosecution accepted Strickson’s not-guilty plea to sexual assault but said the common-assault matter could stand on technical grounds.
Strickson appeared for sentence on Friday knowing that his latest misdemeanour might land him in jail again.
The 25-year-old, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, had several previous convictions for sexual offences against females dating back six years.
He first came to the attention of police in April 2013 and then again in 2015 and 2016, when he sexually assaulted two women and a 14-year-old girl in separate attacks on buses and trains between Scarborough, Malton and York.
In one incident in June 2016, he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl on a Coastliner bus in circumstances “strikingly similar” to the new offence.
On that occasion, Strickson, of Back Lane South, Middleton, admitted he derived sexual gratification from touching females on public transport, but told police “his Asperger’s and autism made it difficult for him to interact with others”, said prosecutor Dan Cordey.
He was jailed for two years for those offences in October 2016 and placed on the sex-offenders’ register for 10 years. The sentence included an order which precluded him from using public transport without being accompanied by an appropriate adult.
The sentence was later scaled down to a three-year community order with rehabilitation following a ruling by the Court of Appeal, although the travel restrictions remained in place.
Mr Cordey said the attack on the student occurred at about 6.30pm on December 12 last year, when Strickson got on the bus and sat behind her.
“(The victim) felt something touching her arm,” he said. “She looked at (the reflection) in the window of the bus and realised it was the defendant touching her (after) placing his arm down the side of the seat.”
The incident was reported to the bus driver and Strickson apologised to the victim, “but she was upset, scared and rang her father who hurried to be with her”.
Strickson was taken in for questioning but gave no comment in two separate police interviews.
Mr Cordey said the victim was “clearly crying and scared and distressed throughout (the incident)”. She was “still wary” about travelling alone.
Defence barrister Glen Parsons said although it was a “brush of the arm (and) not a sexual assault… I have to concede that this is something of a troubling case”.
Despite Strickson’s learning difficulties and a “number of social and psychological difficulties”, there was “no doubt he understands his wrong-doing”.
He said that Strickson, who was receiving help and supervision from support agencies, was “not somebody who seems to be deliberately flouting the orders of the court” and had frantically tried to contact his parents when his chaperone didn’t turn up on the day in question.
Mr Stubbs said he would give Strickson “your last chance”, adding: “If (it had been) sexual assault, it would have been prison. But it wasn’t, so it won’t be (jail).”
However, the judge warned him: “However hard your life is, however difficult it is for you to talk to other people and to get a girlfriend, this (assaulting females on buses) is not the way to go about it.
“You can’t do it by pawing other people on public transport. Ultimately, if you can’t stop yourself, the court will stop you by taking you of circulation and locking you up.”
The judge said he had taken account of the fact that Strickson was “working well” with support staff and holding down a job.
Strickson was made subject to a new two-year community order with a 25-day rehabilitation programme.
Mr Stubbs also made a restraining order banning Strickson from contacting the victim, who did not know the defendant.