A JURY is considering its verdict in the case of a businessman from Ringwood charged with sexually assaulting young girls.

Robert Giddings, a former council boss and ex-chairman of governors at a Hampshire infant school, has been on trial at Southampton Crown Court for the past week, accused of repeatedly abusing three girls under the age of 14.

The alleged offences date back 30 years.

Jurors heard the 54-year-old, of Wayside Road, was cautioned by police 22 years ago after he was accused of trying to grab a young girl.

Giddings insisted it had been an isolated incident. “Nothing like that had happened before and nothing like that has happened since,” he told jurors.

Asked by prosecutor Nicholas Tucker why he did it, he Giddingshe replied: “I don’t know. It was a moment of stupidity. I didn’t get any sexual gratification from it. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed afterwards. I was ashamed at what I had done.”

Mr Tucker suggested: “A moment of madness?” GiddingsGiddings replied, “Yes, sir. I was ashamed because I realised it was wrong and I shouldn’t have done it because of the effect it had on her.”

Mr Tucker asked what type of effect it might have had and he answered: “Traumatised her.”

After the matter came to light, heGiddings said he went to the police station and confessed.

“The fallout was traumatic for all members of the family. My wife was very upset and tearful. I don’t recall her being angry. I said it wouldn’t happen again and I was confident in my mind it wouldn’t happen again. It had a profound effect on my conduct.”

The father-of-three is a well-known figure in the New Forest where he was, until last year when he was arrested and charged, sales director and partner at RF Giddings – a sawmill run by his family in Bartley.

As well as previously holding the post of chair of governors at Netley Marsh Infant School, he was also the long-standing chairman of Netley Marsh Parish Council – a post he also quit last February.

Prosecuting, Nick Tucker said Giddings had molested the children on numerous occasions during the 1980s and 1990s.

One alleged victim told the court of five occasions when she claims he indecently touched her, the first when she was around eight, and she was left “scared and confused”.

Another alleged victim told the court she broke her silence after more than 20 years because she feared other children could be at risk.

The woman said that she was reluctant to speak up after so long because she didn’t want to tell her parents as it was the “hardest part” and she didn’t want to upset them.

She added that her mum was angry when she was told and that her dad was “shocked and crying”.

Giddings told the court his relationship with the three girls had been good. “I have never fallen out with any of them.”

And heAnd heGiddings said he did not know of any “burning grievance” they held against him.

Character witnesses spoke of their shock that Giddings was facing sex charges.

Retired magistrate Roy Farmers, described him as “a great friend, who was caring, upright, approachable and accessible”.

Mr Farmers added: “He is highly respected in the community and he is a friend I shall support in the future.”

Pamela Colmar, who was a cleaner at his home and his New Forest sawmill, said she had known him since he was 12.

“He is one of the nicest people you could wish to meet,” she said.