A JUDGE has praised the bravery of a group of sexual abuse victims after their evidence led to a former carer at a children's home being jailed for 19 years.

Stuart Thornton, 65, who is now registered blind and walks with the aid of a white stick, took advantage of his position as a care worker at the home in Skipton to carry out the shocking abuse of three boys and a girl in the 1970s.

As he passed an extended sentence on Thornton today Judge Neil Davey QC spoke directly to the complainants who were in court for the hearing and commended them for coming forward.

"It is a brave thing to do for victims in their circumstances to come forward at all. And then having come forward to put themselves to public scrutiny in a public court and give their account in circumstances which are never easy," said the judge.

He added that it was only because of people like them that offenders like Thornton received their just deserts and he hoped they would now reach a degree of "closure and peace".

Thornton, of Spring Gardens, Cowling, near Keighley, was found guilty following a trial at Bradford Crown Court of a series of sexual offences including indecent assaults, gross indecency with a child and buggery.

The court heard that Thornton still maintained that his accusers were telling lies and Judge Davey highlighted his "utter lack of remorse" and the fact that he had tried to paint himself as the victim during the case.

Judge Davey said he could not conclude that Thornton had deliberately sought work at the now closed children's home in Carleton Road in order to commit sexual offences, but he decided that the defendant should still be considered a dangerous offender.

"Having obtained that employment you took advantage of it to commit serious sexual offences on regular basis against children who were in your care and defenceless against you," the judge told Thornton.

"The breach of trust in those circumstances is extremely grave."

Judge Davey said the victim impact statement of one of the male complainants made "harrowing reading" and the psychological impact had been severe on at least two of the men involved in the case.

Having decided that Thornton still posed a significant risk of serious offending Judge Davey imposed an extended prison sentence on him which means he will have to comply with an additional licence period of three years.

But the judge told him that he would not be considered for release from prison until his case was looked at by the Parole Board at the two-thirds stage.

Thornton will also be subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order and he will have to tell the police where he is living, once released, under the terms of a lifetime sex offender registration requirement.

In mitigation for Thornton, barrister Chloe Fairley submitted that her client had played a positive role in his community in the subsequent years since the offending in the 1970s.

"There is in fact actual evidence not only that the defendant hasn't offended in the intervening period, a very substantial period of time, but that he has gone over and above the ordinary," she said.

"He has clearly involved himself in charitable work at quite a significant level."

After the case, Detective Constable Gillian Gowling, who led the investigation, also praised Thornton's victims' bravery courage in reporting the abuse they had suffered as children.

"It is a difficult thing to do, especially re-living it through the court process. However, their courage means that Thornton is now facing the consequences of his sickening crimes," she said.

“Thornton was employed as a ‘carer’ of children, who, by the very fact that they were in a children’s home, needed protection and care.

"He abused his position in the most horrific way possible and his victims have had to live with that abuse for years before seeing justice being done.

"I hope it gives them a small degree of comfort, knowing that he has finally been held accountable for what he did to them.

“Anyone who is a victim of sexual abuse should not hesitate to come forward, regardless of how long ago it happened.

"It will be fully investigated, you will have the support of specially trained officers, and you will have access to a range of specialist agencies who can provide you with advice and support to help you come to terms with what is a devastating experience.

“Child abuse is everyone’s business and we urge anyone who suspects a child is being abused, to report it. Your information could help form a wider picture of offending and lead to more children being protected.”

The NSPPC described Thornton's crimes as "appalling".

Its spokesperson said: “Thornton used his power and trusted position as a carer to commit appalling sex crimes against children over many years.

“In a home that should have been a place of comfort and safety, he subjected his vulnerable victims to horrific abuse and controlled them through fear and punishment.

“Child sexual abuse can have life-long effects on victims. That’s why the NSPCC is visiting primary schools across the country, including Bradford, with its ‘Speak Out Stay Safe’ service, empowering children to protect themselves from abuse and to speak out if they ever experience it.

“We want anyone who has suffered abuse to know they will be listened to.

"They can contact the NSPCC helpline in confidence, 24 hours a day seven days a week, on 0800 808 5000 or via. Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk”