A church-going grandfather and former driving instructor has avoided jail after he admitted sexually assaulting two young girls.
Ex-military man James Besant, 73, from Whixley, appeared for sentence at York Crown Court on Friday after admitting two counts of sexual assault.
Prosecutor Dan Cordey said Besant, a former staff sergeant, had “clearly groomed” the girls and even took them out in his car.
One of the girls was sexually assaulted at a property in the Harrogate area between January and September 2016.
Police originally launched an investigation after an incident at a local park in April 2016, where a group of youths saw Besant appearing to sexually assault one of the victims.
The youths took note of Besant’s car registration and contacted police. Besant was arrested and brought in for questioning but denied any wrongdoing, claiming the allegations were
Mr Cordey said the victims, who were both very young at the time, had been seriously affected by Besant’s callous behaviour.
One of the girls - neither of whom can be named for legal reasons - was particularly vulnerable due to complex mental-health issues.
She had suffered nightmares and felt a “sense of shame” and anger at what had happened, said Mr Cordey.
Besant, a married father-of-two, was originally charged with five counts of sexual assaulting a child under 13 years of age, which he initially denied.
A trial was due to take place in July, but Besant pleaded guilty to two of the charges and the Crown Prosecution Service allowed the three other charges to lie on file.
Susannah Proctor, for Besant, said the ex-army man was remorseful for what he had done and that the likelihood of him reoffending was “low”.
She said Besant’s offending, and subsequent admissions of guilt, had had a “great” effect on his own family, particularly his wife of over 50 years.
She said that Besant, of Stonegate, had served in the army for 36 years and had an “exemplary” military record.
After leaving the army, he set up a successful driving school in Whixley, but the business was closed down following his arrest.
“He is an active member of the local church and has been for many years,” added Ms Proctor.
“He is a very proud man; he is very proud of his military record. This is a very significant fall for him.”
She said Besant and his wife helped elderly people in the Harrogate area who lived alone.
Judge Simon Hickey said character references showed that Besant had been an “exemplary” figure in the community, but he had now lost his good character.
He added that Besant had used “coercion” towards one of the girls to get what he wanted.
Besant, who wore a tweed jacket, blue shirt and tie, was given an 18-month suspended jail sentence, along with a 40-day rehabilitation course “to address any sexual urges that you
Mr Hickey also made a 10-year sexual-harm prevention order which will restrict Besant’s contact with under-age girls and his computer use.