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Sex charges against former shopkeeper dropped

Proceedings were halted at Maidstone Crown Court
Proceedings were halted at Maidstone Crown Court

A FORMER Dymchurch shopkeeper accused of serious sexual offences dating back several years will not face further prosecution.

At Maidstone Crown Court, the prosecution offered no evidence against John Stageman after a jury decided he was unfit to stand trial because of his mental and physical state.

Stageman, 62, was accused of a number of charges, including rape and indecent assault on young girls between 1975 and 1982

A charge against his wife Lyn, a 57-year-old former parish councillor, of aiding and abetting rape has also been dropped.

The long-running action against the couple, who once owned the Arcade gift shop in Dymchurch High Street, was finally halted at on Thursday.

John Hillen, prosecuting, said a letter had been received from the Chief Crown Prosecutor for Kent setting out the position.

The Crown, he said, had always indicated that if it was decided not to proceed against Mr Stageman, no evidence would be offered against his wife.

Mr Hillen said he would explain the reasons for the decision as “this matter has excited some press interest over the years”.

Mr Stageman was first arrested and remanded in custody in January 2000. He was granted bail in early March.

“Thereafter, there were 16 occasions on which the case was listed before the magistrates’ court between March 30 2000 and August 8 2001,” said the prosecutor.

“Throughout that time the magistrates were provided with doctors’ evidence, both as to the psychiatric and physical condition of Mr Stageman and his unfitness to attend magistrates’ court.”

On August 17 2001, the prosecution issued a notice discontinuing the action against the couple, now of Rundle Road, Newton Abbot, Devon.

It was conditional, said Mr Hillen, on Mr Stageman continuing to be in the ill-health as indicated by doctors.

Observations were kept on him and evidence was gathered which led to the Chief Crown Prosecutor reinstating the proceedings.

As a result, Mr Stageman was arrested again in March 2002. Twelve more hearings at both magistrates’ and Crown Court followed. He did not attend and psychiatric, medical and cardiologists reports were produced.

Mr Stageman tried unsuccessfully to stop the prosecution in April that year by applying to the Attorney General.

The couple then mounted an abuse of process case, heard in March 2003. Judge Anthony Balston said it was generally accepted that Mr Stageman was not a well man.

But he added that from what witnesses observed, Stageman appeared to have no particular problem in travelling around the countryside for business and other activities.

“I have no difficulty in concluding that neither defendant has satisfied me that it would be unfair to try him or her and that they could not receive a fair trial,” he said.

An application was then made to move the case to the West Country. In September last year, the resident judge at Exeter Crown Court asked the Chief Crown Prosecutor to consider whether “enough was enough”.

But the official deemed it was in the interests of the alleged victims that the matter should be considered by a jury.

It was then decided by jurors on January 5 that Mr Stageman was unfit to stand trial and the matter was transferred back to Maidstone Crown Court.

Mr Hillen said Stageman was still under doctors and attended daily by a psychiatric nurse. “He is not considered to be a continuing danger to the public,” he said.

The “main victim” was not content with the proposal to drop the case, but other victims were.

“These various things had to be balanced out,” said the prosecutor. “The Crown came to the conclusion that given the history of this case and the powers now available to the court…it should not proceed further.”

Judge Warwick McKinnon awarded Mr Stageman £85 travel costs. He said he would approve travel costs for Mrs Stageman for 10 round trips of 500 miles between Kent and Devon if figures were produced.

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