AN elderly silver band official has been jailed for sexually assaulting a disabled woman.

Mobility scooter user Graham Harding was today (Thursday, June 26) sentenced to 27 months in prison at Teesside Crown Court.

The court heard how Harding, a former official with Billingham Silver Band, attacked the vulnerable woman on numerous occasions over several years.

The defendant, now 72, put his hand inside the woman’s clothing and touched her breasts and genitals.

On one occasion, he took the woman’s hand and placed it on his own genitals.

The court heard how he made sure nobody else was in the room at the time the assaults took place.

The offending only stopped when Harding’s health deteriorated.

Peter Makepeace, mitigating, said the case had been extremely difficult for Harding and devastating for the defendant's wife, who sat in the public gallery visibly distressed as details of her husband’s offending were described during the 30-minute hearing.

“This is a man who labours under physical disability. It seems that both emotionally and physically he depends on his wife,” Mr Makepeace added.

Harding shook his head repeatedly during the hearing.

Commenting on why his client was still in denial about the attacks, Mr Makepeace suggested it was human nature to deny offending as a way of dealing with the crimes.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was in her late teens and early 20s when the assaults took place.

The court heard that she was now looking forward to closure provided by the court case and to getting on with her life.

Harding, of Seaham Close, Stockton, was found guilty by a jury of four charges of sexual assault and one charge of causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent at an earlier hearing.

Passing sentence, Judge Peter Armstrong told the defendant it was a sad day not just for him and his wife, but for the woman he assaulted.

“This was unacceptable behaviour. You took advantage of someone who was extremely vulnerable.

“Clearly there was gross abuse of trust – this went on for some time.”

Harding was told he would serve half the sentence before being released on licence