A MAN who carried out sex assaults on young girls has escaped jail - because of his war record.
D-Day veteran Thomas Smith, 78, abused youngsters over a six-year period at a riding school in Almondbury.
But he was given a suspended sentence by a judge at Bradford Crown Court who took into account Smith's poor health and his "valiant" war record.
Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman said he was "surprised" by the lenient sentence.
He added: "Even when all the extenuating circumstances are taken into account, it seems surprising an immediate custodial sentence has not been imposed.
"If I put myself in the position of one of the victims' parents, I would not be happy. They and their daughters have been through a terrible ordeal.
"Certainly there has to be some very close supervision of a man who carried out what appears to be a number of assaults."
The court heard how Smith, of Fernside Avenue, Almondbury, indulged in sexual acts with stable girls at the riding school he ran between 1978 and 1984.
The girls, some as young as 11, were offered free rides and gifts in return, said prosecutor Bryan Cox.
Smith pleaded guilty to three charges of indecent assault. Several more charges of a sexual nature are to remain on the file.
He was given jail sentences totalling two years, suspended for two years, and put on the Sex Offenders Register for 10 years.
Passing sentence, Judge Roger Scott said he was taking account of Smith's age and very poor health, his guilty pleas and his Army record in the Second World War.
Smith lost an eye and suffered other severe injuries while with the 9th Battalion of The Cameronians in Europe.
The judge told him: "I do think I ought to take account of your war record. On D-Day, as a teenager, you were fighting for your country.
You fought the war valiantly, so you are entitled to draw substantially on your war record."
Judge Scott said a consultant's report said Smith suffered from heart disease and breathing difficulties. Also, a few months ago he had survived a life-threatening haemorrhage caused by stomach ulcers.
"Pleas of guilty are very important," the judge added. "That helps me reduce the sentence substantially."
Explaining his decision to suspend the sentences, Judge Scott said: "The circumstances of this case amount to exceptional circumstances."
Mr Cox said Smith employed a number of girls at the riding school. Being allowed into the inner office, where there was a camp bed, was seen as a perk or reward for good behaviour.
There would be a certain amount of tickling, cuddling and playfighting and Smith would allow the girls to sit on his knee.
Once, while a girl was lying on top of Smith, he put his hand down the front of her knickers.
Eventually, sexual intercourse took place when the girl was still only 13, said Mr Cox.
Smith took her to a family planning clinic, where she was prescribed the Pill, just after her 14th birthday.
Mr Philip Andrews, for Smith, said his client was ashamed.
One of Smith's victims said: "Just because the crimes happened all that time ago doesn't mean they should be swept under the carpet or just forgiven.
"What he did was very serious and is still affecting me. I am a successful professional woman, but I was 36 before I could go to the police."
Another said she now felt she could start living a normal life.