Aristocrat in rape claim abused girl aged six at stately home… but brain-damaged Castle Howard heir, 65, avoids prison after being declared unfit to stand trial
- Aristocrat sexually abused a six-year-old girl, a court has found, at stately home
- But Simon Howard, 65, avoids prison after he was declared unfit to stand trial
- He escaped with absolute discharge due to brain damage he suffered in a fall
- Due to ‘irreparable’ brain injuries he couldn’t stand trial or be given a sentence
An aristocrat sexually abused a six-year-old girl, a court has found, and was also accused of attempting to rape a woman who were both overnight guests at one of Britain’s most famous stately homes.
But Simon Howard, 65, yesterday escaped with an absolute discharge because brain damage he recently suffered in a fall at home meant he was unfit to stand trial.
Justice might have been possible but for what the judge described as an ‘unacceptable’ three-year delay by the prosecution in bringing the case to court. Howard’s ‘genuine’ fall at home happened two years after the first victim went to police.
Due to ‘irreparable’ brain injuries he could not stand trial or be given a custodial sentence.
Aristocrat Simon Howard, 65, sexually abused a six-year-old girl, a court has found, and was also accused of attempting to rape a woman who were both overnight guests at one of Britain’s most famous stately homes
The incidents were said to have happened at Castle Howard, the North Yorkshire stately home used for the filming of hit Netflix series Bridgerton (Pictured)
Both incidents were said to have taken place decades ago at Castle Howard, the North Yorkshire stately home used for the filming of hit Netflix series Bridgerton and both TV and film versions of Brideshead Revisited.
A finding of fact trial at York Crown Court last month ended with a jury deciding that Howard did sexually assault the young girl in the mid-1980s and incite her to commit an act of gross indecency.
The jury heard harrowing evidence from the victim, now a mother in her 40s, and Howard’s subsequent denial to police. In a victim impact statement read in court yesterday the woman, who reported the incident to her mother at the time, said she felt the sexual abuse on her was ‘swept under the carpet’. An earlier court hearing was told her family did nothing because of Howard’s social standing.
The alleged attempted rape victim came forward after hearing about the child abuse charges earlier this year.
She had previously told close family members how Howard had tried to rape her in her bed at night in the mid-2000s, but was ‘advised and encouraged to conclude’ it would be a ‘traumatic experience’ to report him.
This allegation was left to lie on the file after the prosecution decided it was not in the public interest to take the case to a second finding of fact trial. The decision was taken after consulting the complainant.
In her statement detailing Howard’s alleged sex attack she said she was staying overnight at Castle Howard when he came into her bedroom.
She said: ‘I was woken up by being shaken and opened my eyes to see him kneeling at the side of my bed and staring at my face. He wanted to ask what time I wanted breakfast.’
She said he then ‘just launched himself on top of me pinning me to the bed and I just couldn’t believe it. I said: “just get off Simon, get off, what are you doing?”’ She said he sexually assaulted her and asked her to perform a sex act. She believed he was trying to rape her.
Howard (left) pictured with his second wife Rebecca Howard (right), who he has two children with, outside Castle Howard
The woman fled to the bathroom and was pursued by Howard who allegedly ‘pounced’ on her again when she came out. The court heard when she was signing the visitors’ book to leave Howard allegedly said: ‘Shouldn’t you have said thank you for not having me.’ The court was told there was no evidence she signed the book.
The sex assault on the little girl is alleged to have taken place around 20 years earlier. Howard was accused of sexually assaulting the child and asking her to perform an indecent act when she came into his bedroom looking for his first wife, who has since died.
In her interview with police, the victim said her life had been ‘haunted’ by the events of that morning. She said: ‘The true horror of what had happened to me was part of my childhood, part of my growing up. It was a wrong thing and a rather confusing thing to have happened and I never understood it.’ One of the factors that made her come forward decades later was Howard’s support of an NSPCC Christmas Fair, which she found ‘shocking’.
Howard was interviewed in July 2018 and remembered the incident. Prosecutor Michael Smith said: ‘He said he woke up to find a child asleep in his bed.
He said he turned over and went back to sleep.’ He said he did nothing wrong, although he admitted the child’s mother accused him of touching the girl.
In her victim impact statement outlined by Mr Smith, the victim said it affected her relationship with her mother and ‘lost trust and confidence in the adults that should have been protecting her’.
She said ‘nobody was able to speak up for her at the time and the abuse was swept under the carpet, something not spoken about, and it felt to her like it was her shame being covered up and not his’.
Passing sentence yesterday, Judge Sean Morris said the only option open to him by law was an ‘absolute discharge’.
Howard stepped down from running Castle Howard (pictured) in 2015 amid an apparent falling out with his older brother Nicholas, 68, who took over and moved in to the magnificent ancestral home with his family
He said Howard would automatically have to sign the Sex Offenders Register for five years.
Howard was not at court or watching proceedings via the internet. Howard married his first wife Annette ‘Scruff’ Howard in 1983. Their marriage ended in divorce after 16 years and Annette died last year at the age of 71.
Howard, who remarried and had two children with his second wife Rebecca, stepped down from running Castle Howard in 2015 amid an apparent falling out with his older brother Nicholas, 68, who took over and moved in to the magnificent ancestral home with his family.
Simon Howard moved to Welham Hall, a country house about ten miles away, but the family split was clearly a bitter personal blow.
Mrs Howard said in an interview in 2018: ‘My husband was born there, my children grew up there and I felt proud and privileged to be part of its history. We had so many happy times, but all those memories have been tarnished.’
The property, owned by his family for generations, was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and built in the early 1700s. Before the pandemic around 250,000 people visited annually from across the world.
Few of these great many admirers of the architecture, the follies in the beautiful grounds and the television and film fame of Castle Howard will have had any notion of what went on behind the stately home’s doors.
After the court hearing, his wife Rebecca Howard said in a statement: ‘If this case had come to court before my husband’s horrific accident last year or even while his first wife was still alive, I have no doubts at all that the outcome of these allegations would have found in his favour.’
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