Rapist jailed 40 years after vile crimes at Preston children's home

left; Harris Childrens Home on Garstang Road, right; Christopher Hartley
left; Harris Childrens Home on Garstang Road, right; Christopher Hartley

An abuser who raped a vulnerable youngster in a children’s home and sexually assaulted others has been brought to justice – more than 40 years after his vile crimes.

To outsiders, former soldier Christopher Hartley appeared to be a respectable family man – the son of a couple who had devoted their lives to caring for children at the Harris orphanage in Preston.

But secretly, Hartley abused girls in the home for his own perverse pleasure.

After six hours of deliberations, jurors at Preston Crown Court found him unanimously guilty of 23 sexual offences – including a rape, an attempted rape, and several sexual assaults and charges of gross indecency.

They related to four women who used to live in the Lancashire County Council led home on Garstang Road, and a woman who worked in the care sector.

Hartley, who had attended St Cuthbert Mayne High School in Preston before studying at the Army Apprentice College Harrogate, showed no emotion as the verdicts were given.

The Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, remanded him in custody until his sentencing date on January 19.

Hartley avoided justice for decades as his victims feared they would not be believed.

Hartley, 56, of Denham Avenue, Warrington, was a teenager himself when he abused the girls, who cannot be identified for legal reasons. His parents had been ‘house parents’ at the home during the 1970s.

During the two week trial, prosecutor Barbara Webster said the first girl was about 11 years old when the defendant first targeted her, and it went on until she was 13.

He would tell lies about the girl to get her into trouble and sent to her room, where he would abuse her.

He also told lies about another of his victims who screamed out when he approached her in her room.

A third girl told the court how she was abused in a downstairs lounge which had a bed in it for relief staff who stayed over.

One of the women had reported the abuse allegations to a social worker but did not want to take it further, until a second woman then came forward to West Yorkshire police in 2016.

An NSPCC spokesman said: “This home should have been a safe haven for these children but instead they were forced to endure horrific abuse atthe hands of a cruel and calculated individual. The courage they have shown in speaking out about the abuse they suffered has ensured that a dangerous man can no longer abuse other children.”

County Coun Susie Charles, Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, said: “It is difficult to comment in any detail on cases such as this, which took place so many years ago, but my sympathies go out to anyone affected by historical sexual abuse.”