A former parish council leader who was jailed for ten years for a catalogue of sexual abuse against children has had his sentence cut by top judges.

Well known businessman Robert Giddings, who once a partner of his family-run RF Giddings sawmill, was put behind bars last year for historic sex attacks on young girls.

The now 55-year-old, who was also chairman of a school's governing body, was found guilty by a jury at Southampton Crown Court last March for the attacks on the girls aged eight and 11 more than 20 years ago.

But now three of the country’s most senior judges at London's Appeal Court have upheld his sentence challenge, ruling that the “just and proportionate” term he should serve is eight years.

Lord Justice Laws said Giddings, of Wayside Road, St Leonards, targeted the three girls when he was in his 30s, touching them intimately over their clothes. Despite appearing a pillar of the community, Giddings had previously been cautioned for assault in 1991, after he tried to grab a young girl, the appeal judge added.

Giddings quit his role as councillor at Netley Marsh Parish Council when the allegations surfaced, before also stepping down from the governing body of Netley Marsh Infant School.

His lawyers presented “glowing references” testifying to his good character at a sentencing hearing before he was ultimately jailed, the appeal judge added.

“A pre-sentence report recorded that he was still protesting his innocence,” Lord Justice Laws said. On appeal, Giddings’ lawyers argued that ten years was too long, especially considering that the historic nature of the offences meant he would serve at least two-thirds of the jail term before qualifying for automatic release.

Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Mr Justice Globe and Judge Paul Batty QC, agreed, saying: “In our judgment, the just and proportionate sentence would have been a total of eight years.”