A trusted builder in Cornwall has been found guilty of sexual abuse spanning four decades after his victims finally found the courage to take him to court.

Frederick Peter Hichens, from Porthleven, had been charged with 17 counts of indecent assault involving a total of 66 separate occasions, and one of attempted rape, taking place between the 1960s and 2000. A number involved underage girls.

The 73-year-old had pleaded not guilty to all charges, but a jury at Truro Crown Court found him guilty of all but one of the charges.

They returned verdicts of guilty on all counts of indecent assault, but in the final charge, of attempted rape, they were unable to reach even a majority verdict of a minimum of ten jurors.

As a result Recorder C Quinlan QC has now discharged the jury and asked the prosecution to determine by this Friday whether it wishes to call a retrial on the charge of attempted rape.

Sentencing for the remaining 17 offences will take place at a later date, with Hichens remanded in custody until this time.

During the trial prosecutor Peter Coombe said that all the charges involved a range of sexual acts on women.

One had since spoken with a therapist about what had happened.

Mr Coombe said she had decided to speak out now as "in her words, 'The abuse needs to be out in the open'."

Another said she had been afraid to speak out when she was younger.

One witness told the court that she had been friends with one of the victims while at school. They had been at a sleepover as teenagers when the victim had told her what happened, but begged her friend not to tell anyone, adding that the abuse had stopped and she was safe.

The jury was told that in the early 1960s Hichens was cautioned by the police for having sex with an underage girl aged 14 when he was 18 and getting her pregnant.

When Mr Coombe put it to Hichens that he [Hichens] didn't see anything wrong with having sex with a child, the defendant claimed he was having difficulty with the hearing apparatus.

When the details of one assault allegation were put to him he said "it didn't happen". He said the claims made against him of sexual assaults in the 1960s were "wicked lies".


Porthleven pensioner on trial for catalogue of alleged sexual abuse over 40 years

Pensioner accused of historic sex abuse claimed 'red devil' said to kill himself

Trusted builder says claims he sexually abused children are 'all lies'

During the trial the jury was told that the pensioner had said "My life is over" when confronted about his actions, and had threatened to kill himself.

A 999 call was later played in court, of Hichens telling the operator he had cut his wrist with a mechanical saw. In a voice that appears slightly slurred, Hichens can be heard saying: "I've failed again. Oh my lord."

The court later heard that he had taken an overdose of aspirin and drunk a bottle of sherry before cutting his wrist.

Just days earlier, in February last year, Hichens had visited the Royal Cornwall Hospital after a relative of one of the victims had told him to "get out the village" or the police would be told about what had happened.

Hichens had also been called a paedophile and in reply had apparently said: "It was different back then." He denied this in court, saying he had "no recollection" of this.

Mr Coombe said Hichens had admitted to the nurses in hospital that the abuse had taken place.

As a result they contacted police, who in turn contacted one of the victims. Two others later came forward.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Charles Rowe said that after Hichens had first appeared at hospital, an appointment was made for him to receive a mental health assessment.

In this he initially presented as "vague and inconsistent" in the answers he was giving, describing "bizarre experiences" and telling the two doctors he was hearing "the voice of a red devil telling him to end his life."

However, his answers appeared to be not consistent with a major mental health episode, and Dr Rowe said when challenged over this Hichens "very quickly seemed to change" and became completely coherent. He was, however, considered a suicide risk and safeguarding teams were contacted.

Hichens told the court that he had feigned mental illness in the hope he would be taken somewhere safe after the threats made against him.

When asked why he had apparently confessed to the crimes to nurses at the Royal Cornwall Hospital he said it was because he was stressed and anxious after threats were made against him, adding: "I have no idea why I said that."

The jury retired just before lunchtime last Friday to consider their verdict on a catalogue of charges.

Shortly before midday today (Monday) they returned to the courtroom, after just over five hours of deliberations.

They initially announced that they had reached a verdict on two thirds of the counts, but had not reached a unanimous agreement on the remainder.

The jury at that time found Hichens guilty of 12 of the indecent assault charges by unanimous verdict.

Members were then instructed by Recorder C Quinlan QC to return to deliberate the remaining six counts, but he told them he would accept a majority verdict, provided that no less than ten jurors agreed.

Just over quarter of an hour later they were back before the judge. The jury subsequently found Hichens guilty of the five remaining indecent assault charges, with a ten to one majority, the twelfth juror no longer being part of the case.

However, jurors were unable to reach an agreement over the final charge, of attempted rape.