The trial of Barnstaple councillor Brian Greenslade, accused of historic sexual assaults on three women has been stopped because of the coronavirus crisis.

Mr Greenslade, aged 71, the ex leader of Devon County Council and former chairman of Devon and Cornwall Police Authority was on trial at Exeter Crown Court over allegations dating back to the 1990s and 2000s.

The case started with a jury of 12 on Monday (March 16) but was halted on Tuesday when one of the panel was forced to enter self isolation because his children had virus symptoms.

It had been due to restart today (Wednesday, March 18) with a new jury but the Ministry of Justice advice changed overnight. The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, issued new guidance that no jury trial with a time estimate of more than three days should start.

The case against Mr Greenslade was scheduled to last at least five days and jurors were told on Monday that is was expected to run into next week.

Judge Timothy Rose discharged the original jury and ordered that a new date be fixed for the trial in the summer and autumn. Greenslade was released on bail.

The judge said:”There is no way forward. I have received an instruction not to start any trial which is going to last more than three days. I received an e-mail direct from the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales at about 9 pm last night.

“I think it would have been remarkable if we had made it to the weekend if we had carried on. It only needs one member a juror’s household to have symptoms and they are gone.

“These measures are intended to be supportive of public health and horses through that if we were to start this trial. It is a very worrying period of time and there is a sense of gathering gloom and doom in society. The jury are likely to be distracted.”

Mr Greenslade, of Longpiece, Marwood, near Barnstaple, denies two counts of indecently assault and one of sexual assault.

He accused of assaulting two of the women while on county council business and the third in the 1990s.

He denied all the allegations in police interviews and says he never behaved in appropriately towards any of the three women.