Ex-teacher jailed for sexually abusing pupils

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The Independent Online

A former teacher at a Roman Catholic boarding school was jailed for 10 years and nine months today for sexually abusing six pupils.

Former Royal Navy chaplain Paul Couch was convicted on August 2 but released on bail by the judge "as an act of mercy" because his father is dying.

The 61-year-old, of Wyndham Street West, Plymouth, Devon was sentenced at Plymouth Crown Court for a catalogue of offences on the boys - aged between eight and 13 - between 1972 and 1993 at the Devon school, which is now closed.

Judge Paul Darlow said Couch had committed a "gross breach of trust" and that the boys at the boarding school, which cannot be named for legal reasons, needed care and protection from the staff.

"You were in fact a predator, a sexual predator in that community orientated monastic school," he said. "You knew in what particular regard you would be held as a priest."

Couch pleaded not guilty to two counts of a serious sexual assault and 15 of indecent assault.

The jury took nearly eight hours to convict him of two counts of the serious sexual assault and 11 counts of indecent assault. He was acquitted of the remaining four counts.

He was told he will serve half of his sentence and the second half will be suspended.

Couch will also be put on the sexual offenders' register for life and disqualified from working with children for life.

The court heard that when one boy was assaulted he protested and was beaten by Couch.

Later one of the victims at the school made a complaint, but after an internal investigation is was "dismissed as fantasy".

Judge Darlow said: "He was brow beaten into watering down his complaint.

"Despite these warning shots you continued to offend.

"During the course of this trial you sought to portray these boys as liars.

"These were not liars, fantasists, people mistaken or wrong, they were telling the truth."

In mitigation, defending barrister Nicholas Gerasimides said the offences were not violent and that Couch posed a minimal risk of reoffending.

"These were evil acts but this was not an evil man," he said. "The risk of offending in the future is very low indeed.

"These convictions have completely ended his life."

During the trial prosecutor Ian Fenny said Couch was a man who had a "dark secret personality" and "found himself in a school surrounded by temptation".

Couch, who the court heard was in a powerful position of trust, taught religious studies and English and was also involved in sport and extracurricular activities.

The court heard that at the time the boys were young and sexually naive and did not really understand what was happening to them.

But over the years they revealed what had happened to people close to them, said Mr Fenny.

One boy did complain to the school authorities in 1987, but after an internal inquiry Couch stayed in his post.

The police became involved in 2004 when a former pupil on remand in prison told a prison chaplain a member of staff at the school sexually abused him.

Couch told police the allegations were "disgusting and untrue" and any physical contact was "horse-play" or "tactile affection".

In evidence Couch denied prosecution suggestions that he took advantage of opportunities which presented themselves.

He told the jury: "I did not abuse my position of trust or authority at any time."

Couch said he was not a homosexual, but a heterosexual who had more than one relationship with adult women.

He said the accusations were "totally without truth" and he was sometimes tactile because "sometimes a boy needs a father figure."

The prosecution had said some of the abuse happened during sailing trips, in the gym and while swimming.

The court heard Couch left the school in 1978 to join the Royal Navy as a chaplain, returning to teach in 1983. He remained until 1992 when he rejoined the Royal Navy.