A FORMER Tory councillor who groped young girls as he showered them at his Bradford home escaped jailing yesterday after a judge said his age and ill health meant there was no need to lock him up.
Jim Merrick, 70, was found guilty by a jury at Bradford Crown Court last December of two specimen counts of indecent assault on girls aged between nine and 12 and was cleared of 22 similar charges.
Yesterday Judge Stephen Gullick sentenced Merrick to nine months in prison, suspended for two years.
He told him that his previous good character, his age and his poor health meant it was not necessary to send him to prison.
But afterwards a spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children said: “This seems a very inappropriate sentence.
“Everybody concerned with the welfare of children must ensure this man does not have any access whatsoever to children unless he is under strict adult supervision.”
Merrick, who denied the charges, lured young girls to his home in Reevy Avenue, Buttershaw, with the promise of sweets and alcohol.
There he would encourage them to take showers, during which he would wash them and touch them indecently.
Richard Newbury, prosecuting, told the court that Merrick habitually invited and collected girls from the nearby Buttershaw estate to stay with him for weekends.
“Part of the night-time routine was that the defendant would invite the girls to take a shower on the Friday evening, usually two at a time, and in the case of the complainant to which one charge relates would then visit her whilst in the shower and wash her body, including all of her private parts.”
The complainant to whom the second count related said Merrick washed her body in the shower when she was aged 10 or 11, although he did not touch her intimately.
Sophie Drake, for Merrick, said his offences were not the most serious on the scale of indecent assaults. He was a man of previous good character, who had in the past represented his local community as a Conservative councillor.
Merrick was expelled by the party after serving as councillor for Little Horton between 1968 and 1970.
He was the founding chairman of the British Campaign to Stop Immigration and later joined the National Front.
Miss Drake said: “Although he has political views which some would not agree with, he is of good character.
“He is a man who does not enjoy good health, having suffered emphysema for the last five years, and he has spent a total of 25 days in custody during the course of the case.”
Judge Gullick said that although the prosecution said the charges of which he had been found guilty represented similar behaviour on a number of occasions, sentence had to be passed as if they had been committed in isolation.
He told Merrick: “You had responsibility for them (the girls) and you abused that responsibility towards two of them on two occasions, as the jury found. You allowed these girls to come into your house and, at the very least, some of the behaviour which you indulged in was unwise.”
The judge ordered an inquiry within the next 28 days to determine Merrick’s financial situation and said he would be expected to contribute to prosecution costs. Merrick, who has been living at Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, since the start of the trial, was ordered to register with police as a sex off-ender for a period of 10 years.