A FORMER Royal Navy officer who "used his power and presence" to groom and sexually assault his victims over 21 years, has admitted he was a "bit of a flirt and a bit of a tease".

Married Ric Pallister was a churchgoer, choir member and leader of a district council - and told a jury yesterday that he had an affair with one of the alleged victims.

Pallister also admitted touching another victim inappropriately in a jacuzzi but later deliberately did so after that first occasion.

Pallister was the former leader of South Somerset district council between 2011 and 2018 and was an air traffic controller at the Royal Navy Air Station base at Yeovilton during his Navy career.

The 73-year-old defendant gave evidence at Taunton Crown Court and told the jury that he had a sexual affair with one victim.

He said: "To my enormous shame and something I cannot wipe out, we embarked on an adult relationship.

"This sexual liaison was a straightforward physical one.

"It started as light-hearted fun, then it became more serious but was opportunistic from day one."

He added: "It happened every time there was an opportunity.

"It was wholly consensual all the way through.

"It was not intense for the first couple of years. It was never arranged, manufactured or created."

Pallister said there was some consensual touching - "intimate sexual touching" - with the alleged victim in a jacuzzi.

And the jury heard that Pallister admitted inappropriately touching a teenage victim in the jacuzzi when he touched her outside her swimming costume in the area of her private parts.

He told the court he touched the victim again soon afterwards saying: "Sadly it was deliberate after that. Regrettably it happened more than once within days of the first incident.

"I was attracted to her, I cannot deny that.

"But I did not engage in any sort of grooming."

He said he believed the victim was 17 at the time.

Pallister told the court: "I was attracted to women. I found it easier to be in the company of females than the company of men. I was a bit of flirt, a bit of a tease."

The court heard that he would make a beeline for the prettiest women in the room and it became a bit of a joke.

Pallister said: "I was not conscious of it. I feel enormously stupid."

He also said he kissed women he greeted on the lips but said it was nothing sexual just a "peck with lip to lip contact".

But he denied groping victims on their bottoms and breasts during hugs.

Pallister denies 36 historical sex abuse allegations involving four victims - three children and a woman.

Prosecutor Charles Row said Pallister was a "trusted pillar of the community, a force of nature, a local character".

But he said he "used his power and presence to take advantage of four complainants in this case".

He added Pallister "consciously and deliberately forced himself on them with unwanted sexual attention" and "groomed, manipulated, controlled and coerced" the victims.

Pallister told police there was some sexual touching with one girl and a long affair with a woman.

The trial continues.