Facing allegations of historic sex offences can be all consuming. With so much media attention given to high profile historic sexual allegation cases, it is understandable that you may have questions about such offences. In this article, we look to provide some answers to what historic sex offences are, how they are investigated, and the sentences if you are  convicted of a historic offence. 

What is regarded a historic sexual offence?

An offence will be classed as historic if the offence took place some time ago, and could be any sexual crime, including rape, sexual/indecent assault against an adult or child . It is a common misconception that a historic offence must have taken place many years ago – it could have allegedly occurred more recently , for example, 5-10 years ago. 

How are historic sexual offences investigated?

If a person is accused of a historic sexual offence, they will likely face investigation from the authorities. It does not matter how long ago the alleged incident took place; authorities take historic sex abuse allegations seriously. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will look for evidence that will corroborate the account of the person making the accusation. They may search through files from schools, education authorities, social services records and other local authorities to find such evidence. 


Furthermore, they are likely to contact potential witnesses and will look to establish whether there are  any other potential complainants, and  your home may be searched for evidence. You will also be asked to attend the police station to be interviewed. It is important that you understand your rights. You are entitled to have a solicitor attend your police station interview. 


One of the key things that make historic sexual allegation cases particularly complex, is that no time limit applies for the reporting of them. This means that an offence can be reported to the police even after several decades. In many cases, it may be such a long time since the alleged offence took place that the accused suffers prejudice because of the loss of memory of witnesses, records have been destroyed, witnesses have died, and so on. 

What are the potential sentences/penalties if convicted of a historic sexual offence?

It is difficult to determine exactly what the sentence for a historic sex offence will be – it will depend on the nature of the offence as well as several other circumstances. However, in many cases, those convicted of a historic sex offence receive lengthy custodial sentences. 


Those who have been convicted of a historic sex offence will be sentenced in line with what the maximum sentence in law was at the time the offence was committed. If the  maximum sentence has since been reduced, the lower sentence will apply. The  judges will consider the most recent sentencing guidelines, whilst being mindful of the maximum sentences that were available at the time of the offence, when deciding on the appropriate sentence where the offence took place before 1st May 2004. Those convicted of an offence may also be subject to a Sexual Harm Prevention Order and will almost certainly have to sign the ‘’sex offenders register’’.


Stuart Sutton has been in practice for over 35 years and specialises in providing an expert defence service to clients accused of sexual offences, including rape, sexual assault, historic sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, online grooming, revenge porn and more.