A PAEDOPHILE security guard whose abuse left a young girl with permanent emotional damage has been spared a jail sentence because he is dying from dementia.

Exeter Crown Court heard William Gardiner, formerly of Oake Close, Oake, near Wellington, and now living in a care home in Minehead, was suffering terminal dementia and was being treated in hospital every couple of weeks.

Gardiner took advantage of the girl when she was just 11 years old and visited the squalid home near Taunton where he lived with his mother and brother.

He had already served a four-year jail term for abusing another girl 20 years earlier when he carried out a series of new sex attacks on his second victim in the 2000s.

She was too traumatised by her experience to tell anybody until she met Gardiner again in 2018 and he sexually assaulted her once more, leading her to go to the police.

He was arrested and interviewed but has since become so ill that he now needs full-time care at a specialist facility in Minehead.

He was said to now be so confused with irreversible dementia he did not even recognise his own family or his solicitor.

Gardiner also suffers serious physical disabilities and his trial was moved to Exeter from Taunton because the old Shire Hall building did not have wheelchair access.

His condition deteriorated to such an extent that he was found to be unfit to stand trial and did not attend a three-day hearing at which a jury were asked to decide whether he committed the acts alleged.

Gardiner, aged 74, was found by the jury to have committed five offences of assault by penetration and one of sexual assault.

But Recorder Mr Donald Tait gave him an absolute discharge. 

Mr Tait explained to the jury that Gardiner’s unfitness to plead meant the only alternate sentences were a hospital or a supervision order, but these had not been recommended by either doctors or probation officers.

He said the victim’s personal statement, in which she revealed she was still haunted by nightmares and flashbacks and once attempted suicide, showed the appalling effects of childhood abuse.

Mr Tait told the jury: “Now you see what happens to victims of offences like these.

“It is important for the victim to know that justice has been done.

“I hope she will get some progress from the process.

“I am satisfied this man poses no danger now and he would not be able to understand any order I could make.”

Referring to the jury’s verdicts, which were reached in under an hour, Mr Tait said: “The victim wanted to be believed. And she has, in a very short period of time.”

Virginia Cornwall, prosecuting, said the abuse took place at the home Gardiner shared with his mother at a time when he had stopped working as a security guard in the mid-2000s.

He met the girl when she visited the house and started touching her, leading on to more serious sexual assaults.

She did not report the abuse until years later, but had told therapists about it in the meantime.

Miss Cornwall said Gardiner’s predilection for young girls was shown by his previous offending, which he admitted at Bristol Crown Court in 1987.

She said that had been an almost identical abuse of another 11-year-old.

The victim’s impact statement was read to the jury after they reached their verdicts.

She said Gardiner’s actions had blighted her childhood and prevented her living a normal life.

The woman wrote: “I was so scared that I froze. I used to feel dirty, however much I washed.

“He made me feel small and worthless.

“At one time, I tried to take my own life.

“I felt like I had no right to be on this earth.”

Gardiner denied all the assaults when interviewed by police and told them that he had no sexual interest in children.

Harry Ahuja, defending, said Gardiner was now seriously ill and was constantly being transferred between a Minehead care home and a hospital where he needed treatment once every couple of weeks.

Mr Ahuja said: “The prognosis is that his mental disorder is likely to worsen.

“There is no treatment and his care is intended to slow down the process and provide for his physical needs.”