A Durham man with a learning disability has largely escaped the attention of the police despite having a history of sexual offending, a judge in a specialist court has been told.

Mr Justice Poole was given a “very long list of incidents of concern” stretching back more than 20 years.

The judge was told that assaults appeared to be “opportunistic”, and the County Durham man touched women’s breasts and legs without their consent.

He had been asked to make decisions relating to the man’s ability to make decisions for himself.

Mr Justice Poole had analysed evidence at a hearing in the Court of Protection last week, where judges consider issues relating to people who may lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, and has outlined detail of the case in a written ruling published online.

The judge, who is based in London and also oversees hearings in the Family Division of the High Court, said the man, who is in his 30s, could not be named in media reports of the case.

But he said the man had been in the care of Durham County Council for many years and lived in a care home.

Staff at the office of the Official Solicitor, who help vulnerable people embroiled in litigation and represented the man, had asked the judge to make rulings relating to the man’s capacity to make decisions about “engagement in sexual relations”.

Mr Justice Poole, who heard evidence from a psychiatrist, concluded that the man had had the mental capacity to make such decisions.

The judge said he had been told about the man’s “offending behaviour”.

“He has a long history of reported sexual offending,” said the judge.

“There is a body of evidence confirming this history but (he) has largely escaped the attention of the police and the criminal justice system.”

The judge said the man had been given a warning, in 2006, for intentionally touching a female.

“I have been provided with a very long list of incidents of concern stretching back to 2001 which includes multiple examples of sexual assault by unconsented-to touching, typically of women’s breasts or legs,” the judge added.

“In recent years his sexual assaults by touching have been against female members of staff and female residents at (the) care home.”

He said the man had denied these past incidents but there was “good evidence” that they occurred.

The judge added: “The assaults appear to be opportunistic: if he finds himself near a woman, unsupervised, then he may go closer to her and touch her sexually without her consent.”

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Mr Justice Poole said he was satisfied, after considering evidence, that the man understood that if he initiated “sexual activity” with another person. they must be able to consent and must in fact consent.

“(He) knows that he should not touch but thinks ‘hang it, it is what I want to do’,” said the judge.

“I find that (he) surrenders to his impulse because of his character and outlook, not because of his impairments.”

The judge added: “He disregards the need for consent, but he remains able to use the information he retains, namely that the consent of the other person is necessary.”