March 2010

Former horsebox boss jailed for child sex charges

JAMES RATCLIFFE, the man who built up a successful racehorse transport business in Newmarket has been jailed after being convicted of six indecency offences involving young girls.

James Ratcliffe, 68, of Lacey’s Lane, Exning appeared today (Thursday) at Ipswich Crown Court where he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

He had pleaded not guilty to ten charges of indecently assaulting a female at his trial earlier this year. He was cleared of four offences and found guilty of six others.

During his trial the court had heard how Ratcliffe had visited a woman at her home in the Newmarket area two or three times a week for sex and while at the house he had indecently assaulted her two daughters.

The offences took place more than a decade ago, starting when the girls were just entering their teens and lasted for two or three years.

One of the girls – now an adult who cannot be named for legal reasons – told the court while giving evidence: “”At the time I didn’t think it was groping. It just seemed like cuddles but it got uncomfortable”.

Later she began to realise that what was taking place was wrong, said the woman. Before going upstairs with their mother, the girl said she and her sister were given sweets and money by Ratcliffe.

During the trial Ratcliffe denied that he had ever indecently touched or been alone with either girl. He admitted that for six months he had a key to the house but said that whenever he had visited another adult would be present.

Ratcliffe alleged that the claims made by the girls, which had emerged in January last year, had been an attempt to get back at their mother through him.

The court heard how Ratcliffe’s finances had collapsed after the details of the allegations made against him by two girls emerged, forcing him to hand over for nothing to another company the business he had built up and run.

In return the new owners took on Ratcliffe’s debts in respect of the vehicles he used until June last year to transport racehorses all over Britain. Previously Ratcliffe had been hoping to sell the business as a going concern for around 800,000, his barrister

Charles Myatt told the court, but in the wake of the charges against him business went into decline.

Before his trial Ratcliffe had been earning 400 a week by working as a consultant for the new owners but had he and his wife, who had no other source of income, had now been reduced to living on state pensions in rented accommodation, said Mr Myatt.

In addition, Ratcliffe and his wife had last weekend been served with court papers notifying them of proceedings aimed at recovering 1.6 million which was the shortfall between the value of his previous home at the Manor Farm Stud and what he had borrowed for business ventures, the court heard.

In addition his health was not good, with him still suffering the effects of a fall from a horse in 2008.

Sentencing him, Judge John Devaux told Ratcliffe: “Whilst these are not the worst allegations of their sort I have to remember that there were two victims here and the abuse took place over a period of two or three years”.

Each offence was so serious that only an immediate prison sentence was appropriate, said Judge Devaux who also ordered Ratcliffe to sign on the sex offenders register indefinitely and disqualified him from working with children.