A 49-YEAR-OLD former Stonehouse man who raped and sexually abused two young girls when he was in his teens was jailed for six years.

Ex-soldier Stephen Smith was found guilty by a jury at Gloucester Crown Court almost a year ago of ten charges of rape and five of indecent assault of the two girls, who were aged between six and 12 at the time.

He could not be sentenced at the time of his conviction because he had another trial pending - this time alleging indecency against a young boy but a jury found him not guilty of those allegations earlier this year.

On Wednesday, August 15, Judge Jamie Tabor QC told him that it was a difficult sentencing exercise as there were no guidelines for the courts at the time of the offences in the 1970s and 1980s.

Had Smith been convicted in his late teens of identical offences nowadays, he would have received a sentence in double figures, he said.

"But I am dealing now with a man of almost 50 who took advantage of a young girl when you were fourteen and she was about half your age. You continued with it up to and including when you were 18 and still not properly grown up.

"I saw the two women concerned when they gave evidence. They were obviously affected by what you did but I did not hear from them, or observe myself, any special trauma that they suffered at your hands."

The judge said he had to take into account that throughout much of his life, Smith had been a 'wastrel' and a 'scallywag' but that in recent years he had been making something of his life. At the time of his arrest he was working as a hotel manager in Blackpool.

"You have turned your life around of late and that is to your credit," he said.

At Smith's trial last year the court heard that one of his victims was raped and abused by him from 1976 until 1982, when she was about 12.

The other was indecently assaulted by him in 1977 and 1978 when she was six and seven.

Tana Adkin, defending, said Smith had joined the Parachute Regiment as a 17-year-old but left during training and got married.

However, he went back to the army in his twenties and served with the 'Glosters' but was discharged with a knee injury.

After that, she conceded, he wasted part of his life on drinking and gambling. He got married again and had three children and tragically one of his daughters had died of leukaemia in 1992. In recent years, she said, he had got a grip and had worked his way up as a cook, barman and cleaner in hotels to become a manager. He had met a new partner nine years ago who was standing by him and he hopes to marry in due course.

While on remand in prison awaiting trial and sentence he had become a trusted 'enhanced' status inmate and had been taking advantage of educational courses, she said. He had also once been attacked in the prison showers.

As well as passing a six year jail term, Judge Tabor ruled that Smith must sign the sex offenders register for the rest of his life.