James Knowles, 78, raped the girl on a weekly basis, a court heard (Image: Liverpool Echo)

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A terminally ill pensioner who raped a little girl 60 times is set to die in prison.

James Knowles, 78, carried out his sickening weekly abuse of the 'extremely young child' several decades ago, the Liverpool Echo reports.

The victim first went to the police in the 1990s but was told he could not be prosecuted because it happened so long ago.

However, she summoned up the courage to speak out again in 2018 and Knowles was today jailed for 25 years.

Judge David Aubrey, QC, told Knowles "your evil past has now caught up with you", stating: "You are likely to die in prison."

Knowles, from near Liverpool, abused the child when she was aged between five and 10, a court heard.

Knowles was jailed for 25 years at Liverpool Crown Court
(Image: Liverpool Echo)

He denied any wrongdoing, but was found guilty after a trial last week of six counts of rape and three counts of indecent assault.

Knowles was allowed to give evidence from home via video link to Liverpool Crown Court because of his poor heath, but today sat in a wheelchair in the well of the court, just metres away from his brave victim.

The paedophile, who didn't have any previous convictions, had claimed she was lying and still maintains his innocence.

However, Keith Sutton, prosecuting, told the jury Knowles had made admissions to his family, including that he "messed around" with and had "done some bad things" to the victim, before claiming that he was mentally "sick" at the time.

The victim said she was raped "weekly" by him and each count of rape specified "on no less than 10 occasions".

Judge Aubrey said this meant Knowles would now be sentenced for raping her "on no less than 60 occasions".

He said: "It can properly and indeed only be described in my judgement as a persistent campaign of rape upon a particularly vulnerable child."

The woman today read from a victim statement, in which she outlined the horrific impact of the abuse, how she spent her youth "looking over my shoulder", and how Knowles "did not only rob me of my childhood, but my life".

Judge Aubrey commended her "courage" and referred to when she first approached the police in the 1990s.

He said: "Unfortunately her complaint then fell on deaf ears and she was turned away.

"It was a different era then and now complaints are listened to, investigated and examined and your evil past has now caught up with you."

The judge said: "In her poignant victim personal statement she refers to her smile in an old photograph but behind the smile was a child living in fear, dread and incessant worry.

"She speaks now and still of her immeasurable pain and anguish."

Judge Aubrey said Knowles took away the victim's "innocence" and "destroyed her childhood".

He said: "You have taken away more than that, you have scarred your victim emotionally and psychologically for the rest of her life.

"You caused all of that everlasting hurt and harm for your own perverted sexual gratification."

Brian Treadwell, defending, highlighted his client's age and ill health, including his terminal heart condition and kidney failure.

He said Knowles had a pacemaker fitted with a defibrillator, but had decided to have the defibrillator switched off and had recently been receiving palliative care at home.

Judge Aubrey said Knowles quality of life was "very poor" and because his defibrillator had been switched off "it leaves you vulnerable to serious ventricular arrhythmias, which would be likely to end your life".

He said Knowles had made a personal decision that if he suffered a heart attack, he didn't want the defibrillator turned back on or to be resuscitated.

The judge said he took into account Knowles' age and heath, adding: "I bear in mind a prison sentence would be greater punishment for you than a younger person – I make a downward adjustment for that."

However, he added: "I cannot and do not overlook the gravity of these offences or indeed the extreme harm that you have caused to your victim."

The judge said Knowles was "an offender of particular concern" and handed him an extended one year on licence.

This type of sentence means Knowles must serve at least half of the 25 years – 12 and a half years – in prison.

Judge Aubrey said he would then be 90 when his case would be referred to the Parole Board and he would only be released before the end of the 25 years if he is no longer considered to be a risk.

He added: "It may well be that the Parole Board would never be in a position to consider your case."

Knowles shook his head and glared at the victim as he was taken out of court.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: "This was an horrific and prolonged period of abuse carried out by Knowles, and we hope his victim is receiving all the support she needs.

"Her courage in speaking out against her abuser cannot be understated and shows that offenders like Knowles can still face justice even decades after their unthinkable crimes.

"No matter when abuse took place, help is available to survivors and we would encourage anyone who has concerns about the wellbeing of a child or who has experienced abuse to speak out and seek support."

Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111. Adults can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 8005000 or email [email protected]

Anyone with information or wants to report a sexual offence is asked to call 101 where you will be spoken to by specially trained officers or you can pass information to Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.