AFTER a lifetime of "respectability", a wealthy rural property developer now faces dying in prison after being found guilty yesterday of a sudden spate of sinister crimes against children - including sexual abuse.

James Thomson, 69, a self-made millionaire, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer by the time he started targeting youngsters in of Kelso. He attempted to kidnap them, after building a "cell" in his home.

Sentencing him yesterday to five years in prison for crimes including sexually assaulting a child and attempting to abduct others, a judge said it remained a mystery as to what had prompted his actions, but detectives who investigated the case said Thomson had behaved "as if he had nothing to lose". Thomson caused panic in the Borders town in June by stalking several children and carrying out a sex attack on another.

Police later found a "cell" in his home which he had converted from a boxroom into a child's bedroom with a chain on the door.

Yesterday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Thomson was given a four-year prison sentence for his crimes against the children and another year for trying to pervert the course of justice by shaving off his beard before his identification parade.

At the time of his crimes, Thomson had been given a year to live. His defence agent, John Scott, had asked the sheriff not to jail him, saying: "Put quite bluntly, he does not want to die in prison."

Before his arrest, Thomson was a wealthy and respected member of the Borders community. He earned 80,000 a year from work as an architectural technician and has property assets in the millions.

But earlier this year, Thomson left behind his life of propriety and respect for something altogether bizarre and disturbing.

In June, Thomson stopped two 11-year-old children in Kelso and asked them questions about their schooling.

Something about his demeanour scared the children, the court was told. They described his eyes as "shifty".

Thomson then followed another 11-year-old girl, cornered her in a cul-de-sac and, becoming increasingly desperate, grabbed at her wrist before she shook him off and ran away.

"You are a very pretty girl," Thomson shouted after her.

Later that evening, Thomson was seen by passing adults asking a group of three eight-year-olds to get into his car. The girls ran off, again frightened by his demeanour.

The fourth, and most serious, incident involved a seven-year-old girl whom Thomson approached after she fell off her bike. Under the pretence of offering assistance, Thomson carried out a sexual assault.

The court heard from the victim's father, who said his daughter is afraid of the dark, will not go upstairs herself, wets the bed and has nightmares after her encounter.

Sheriff Nigel Morrison insisted that he had no alternative but to deliver such a heavy sentence on Thomson because of the nature of his crimes.

He said: "I have taken regard that you are suffering from serious illness, but the nature of this offence requires a custodial sentence."

The mother of one of the girls said: "We are pleased that he will die in prison."

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