WARNING: This story contains descriptions of sexual offending and graphic language and may not be suitable for some readers. Please take care. If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the Safe to Talk confidential crisis helpline on 0800 227 233.

An 82-year-old South Auckland man has been jailed for likely the rest of his life for more than 50 years of "serious and sustained" sex offending against girls.

Peter Brian Ashford claimed the girls "wanted it" - and tried to blame his offending on his first victim, saying if she had reported him to the police he would have been stopped long ago.

Ashford was jailed for 12 years and eight months by Judge John Bergseng in the Manukau District on Friday.

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He had earlier pleaded guilty to 27 charges relating to girls aged between 8 and 13 including rapes and attempted rapes, sexual violations and indecent assaults.

Ashford began offending in the 60s when he was in his early 30s.

Over the years he has lived in various places around South Auckland and Whangārei - the offending took place in both cities.

The Herald cannot publish details of his victims - but all were known to him and were often left alone with him.

His first victim was just 8 when Ashford set his sights on her in the 1960s.

On multiple occasions he went into her bedroom and tried to rape her in her bed.

She told her mother, but she was not believed and no action was taken.

The second victim was abused by Ashford for three years in the 80s, starting when she was 13.

From 2006 up until after he turned 80 in 2016 he repeatedly sexually abused a group of girls aged between 8 and 11.

The litany of offending against the children was outlined in court.

Many of his victims - a mix of little girls, young teens and adult women - sat and listened as Judge Bergseng relayed the harrowing details of their abuse.


Often, the abuse was witnessed by other children.

On one occasion Ashford lined up five girls and sexually abused them in turn.

Ashford would "reward" the girls for submitting to the abuse with food or money.

He threatened them, saying if they told anyone what he was doing they would be punished.

Peter Ashford sexually abused girls for more than 50 years. The 82-year-old was jailed this week. Photo / Michael Craig
Peter Ashford sexually abused girls for more than 50 years. The 82-year-old was jailed this week. Photo / Michael Craig

Judge Bergseng said Ashford told police and a court report writer that at the time of the offending, all the girls "wanted it".

He said the children "enjoyed and wanted" his sexual advances and that he only did to them "what they asked for".

Judge Bergseng revealed that when speaking to the report writer, Ashford tried to minimise his offending.

"You articulated to the report writer that on numerous occasions you didn't know what you were doing was wrong, stating 'they don't teach you those things'," he said.

"No victim empathy was present, nor regret or remorse for your actions; you denied causing harm to your victims.

"You attributed blame to (the first victim) for not reporting you to the police ... because if you had been caught and prosecuted you may not have gone on to offend against other victims.

"You justified some of your offending against your victims by stating 'she wanted it'."

In relation to the more recent offending, Ashford claimed he "did not hurt them" and that they "enjoyed it".

Judge Bergseng said the offending was "disturbing".

All 10 victims and two of their relatives wrote impact statements ahead of sentencing.

Judge Bergseng said he read each one and they could only be described as "harrowing".

"The effect that your offending has had on all your victims is immense and it will be ongoing," he said.

Ashford: "I must be sick"

When the sentencing began Ashford had to be told by Judge Bergseng to stop staring at his victims.

Ashford was seated in the dock but as the women and girls entered court he stood and walked towards them, his eyes locked on the victims.

He was then moved to sit next to his lawyer Wendy Andrews so he could properly hear proceedings, and to add further distance between him and the victims.

Andrews tried to convince the court that her client was deeply remorseful about his offending.

She said she told Ashford: "You were the adult, you had a duty to care and protect the girls, they were vulnerable and you exploited them ... you caused them extreme emotional harm.

"He acknowledged all of that," she told the court.

"He said: 'I ruined it all, I'm so sorry, I'm sick'."

Ashford told his lawyer that he "got away with it" for a long time but now that his offending had been revealed he was "very remorseful and ashamed of his conduct".

He wrote a letter about the offending which Andrews read aloud.

In it he said he had "shattered" the victims' lives and caused "colossal" damage.

Ashford targeted vulnerable girls over five decades. His offending was described as deviant, disturbing and harrowing in court. Photo / File
Ashford targeted vulnerable girls over five decades. His offending was described as deviant, disturbing and harrowing in court. Photo / File

"Prison stopped me in my tracks," he said in the letter.

"I examined and questioned what exactly did I do and what I should have done.

"When I read the charge sheets ... I thought 'had I actually done that?'

"It was horrendous, I must be sick."

Andrews said other than the sexual offending Ashford, who has no previous convictions, had led a "decent" life and contributed to the community.

"But he ruined it, he shattered it," she said.

"These girls were particularly vulnerable, they needed a champion in their lives, they needed an adult who could properly care for them - any good he did was destroyed by his sexual offending.

"It's terrible these girls weren't protected.

"All of that is acknowledged by him ... He has said time and time again he expects to die in prison."

Andrews said it was a "tragedy" Ashford was not prosecuted decades ago.

She said he was "looking forward to" accessing sex offender treatment programmes in prison.

"He acknowledges he has a sickness, an illness," Andrews said.

"He wants to deal with it and any attempts to justify it - this is something he really needs to work on."

A sex offender sentenced

Judge Bergseng said Ashford was very clearly sexually deviant and "age was no barrier" given he was still abusing girls in his 80s.

For five decades he had sought out vulnerable girls and committed planned and premeditated offences against them.

He said there was no indication Ashford was genuinely remorseful and any remorse was "partial at best".

Apology letters the old man wrote to his victims from prison further highlighted that.

Rather than simply apologising for the harm he had caused, Ashford told the girls he wanted to keep in contact with them and asked them to "report back" to him on their lives - whether they were going to church and how they were going at school.

Judge Bergseng said the letters were "concerning".

He said Ashford had difficulty taking responsibility for his actions and was highly prone to minimising his offending and trying to shift the blame on to the girls.

Based on all the offending and the aggravating factors - the decades, levels and amount of abuse, damage to the victims and the significant breach of trust - Judge Bergseng adopted a starting point of 20 years in prison for Ashford.

He then gave a discount of 25 per cent for the early guilty plea which spared the victims from going through a lengthy trial and a small discount for his old age and mildly declining health.

He refused to give Ashford any further discount for previous good character.

"This is 50 years of offending," he said.

"It may well be that you never walk out of prison."

Ashford was jailed for 12 years and eight months and must serve half of that time before he is eligible for parole.

Judge Bergseng also ordered him to pay reparation of more than $100,000 - money he has access to after he sold his property while in prison - to the victims.

The first victim: do not look at me

Ashford's first victim bravely read her impact statement to the court.

As she stood, her abuser turned to face her and she demanded he "turn around" as she did not want to see his face.

Judge Bergseng ordered Ashford to face the front of the court.

The woman then began to read the statement, her voice shaking as she fought back tears and decades of hurt and emotion.

"For over 50 years I've had to live with the sexual trauma this person inflicted on me - and other victims as well," she said.

"He turned his attention on me as an 8-year-old, at the time I was confused and unsure what to do or say."

Later she would learn about sexual abuse at school and told her mother what Ashford had been doing.

"To my horror she chose not to believe me and I was shocked that no help was offered. I was left to manage the negative emotions I was feeling on my own."

She said the abuse impacted every part of her life.

She had problems trusting men, her relationship with her mother fell apart and when she had her own kids she was constantly fearful.

"I was always extremely careful about their safety," she explained.

"I did not want them to experience what I had been through - the thought that they might experience abuse terrified me."

The woman said she struggled to trust people which had a hugely negative affect on her life.

"Peter Ashford is a sexual predator of young children and this will never change," she said.

"He has been manipulating people all his life, he should never have the option to live freely.

The phone call that changed my life

Ashford's second victim spoke to the Herald about her ordeal.

She never reported Ashford to police but told his ex-wife about the offending.

When police were investigating the more recent offending they spoke to the ex-wife and she pointed them in the woman's direction.

"I'd never been to police, then I got a phone call one day," she said.

"When police contacted me I didn't even know if I wanted to go there - why would I want to dredge all this up again?

"But then I realised that me making a statement was going to help the other victims' cases so for their sake I had to do it."

As a young teen the woman was regularly left in Ashford's care.

When she was 13 he started abusing her.

On one occasion he stood her in front of a mirror and complimented her body, drawing comparisons between her and his wife.

He then forced her to get into a spa pool with him and abused her.

On another occasion he sexually assaulted her in the back of his television repair shop.

He stopped briefly to serve a customer, then returned to continue the abuse.

Ashford regularly asked for sex and the victim refused.

The abuse had a significant impact on the woman's life.

She struggled with drugs and alcohol and spent a lot of time in counselling to help her cope with what Ashford had done to her.

"I felt like I'd got my life together and then this happened," she said.

When she first saw Ashford in court - decades after the abuse - she was terrified.

"It was scary," she said.

"I was really concerned that because he's an old man now that I would feel sorry for him - I didn't want to feel sorry for him.

"I felt angry."

The woman said it was emotional seeing all of Ashford's other victims.

She had always sensed she was not the only one but tried to shut him and the offending out of her mind.

As Ashford was sentenced the woman sat with the other victims in court.

All were silent and were later commended by Judge Bergseng for their courage and dignity.

The woman was disappointed that Ashford did not get a longer prison term, but was pleased he would no longer be able to harm children.

"He's a predator," she said.

"Age hasn't stopped him.

"There's part of me that feels guilty for not going to the police at the time but at the same time it was the 80s and it wasn't really even acknowledged in those days.

"There's a part of me that goes 'maybe if I'd done that then, this might not be happening now'."

The woman said she blamed herself for the offending for a long time, she felt like there was something "wrong" with her and that's why Ashford targeted her.

"That permeates every part of your life," she said.

"You let other people treat you badly as well because you think that's what you deserve or that's how life is.

"I've done a huge amount of work trying to get normal."

The woman chose not to read her victim impact statement in court but Judge Bergseng said it, and the other 11 he read, were "harrowing" and "disturbing".

"I don't have anything to say to (Ashford)," she said.

"I don't want to give him any attention - he's nothing, he's a nobody and he shouldn't get any power.

"He doesn't have the right to take up any of my time.

"I just want him to get locked up for the rest of his life."

Where to get help:

• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.
• Alternatively contact your local police station
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.