A former landlord who ran pubs and hotels in Devon and Cornwall has been cleared of abusing a young girl more than 40 years ago. 

Keith Clarke, aged 69, was found not guilty at Exeter Crown Court after telling a jury there was never any sexual contact with the girl in the 1970s, when he was running the White Hart in Holsworthy and the Three Tuns in Honiton.

Clarke had a career spanning four decades in the catering trade in the south west which included helping his parents to run the Conservative Club in Newton Abbot.

He also ran the Clifford Arms at Shaldon, HF Holidays in St Ives, and the Moorlands Hotel on Dartmoor, where he worked until 2009.

Clarke, of Grange Heights, Paignton, denied 15 counts of indecent assault and one of indecency with a child and was found not guilty of all charges.

During a four-day trial the prosecution say he groomed the girl and went on to abuse her repeatedly during the 1970s.

He is alleged to have touched her and on one occasion simulated sex with her on the floor of one of the pubs.

The woman remained silent until she went to the police in 2010, when she gave a videotaped police interview but she did not feel able to bring charges until making a new complaint last year.

The prosecution say he took advantage of her having a schoolgirl crush on him.

Clarke denied there had been any sexual contact at any time, offering to take her virginity, or showing her pornography.

He said: ‘I never sexually assaulted her. When I heard what she was saying, I denied it. I did not even know she had contacted the police. I have never sexually abused her in any way.’