Former Canon jailed for abusing boys

Ronald Johns was demoted to a village parish nearly 20 years ago instead of police being informed of allegations

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The Independent Online

A former canon at Carlisle Cathedral has been jailed for four years after sexually abusing three teenage boys.

Ronald Johns, 75, was demoted to a village parish nearly 20 years ago by his bishop instead of police being informed of allegations made by his first victim.

The victim made an official complaint to the church in 1993 when, by then, Johns was a canon at Carlisle Cathedral.

Johns made admissions to the late Right Rev Ian Harland who felt the appropriate sanction was to move him to a church in Caldbeck.

The matter only came to the attention of police this year when another victim complained he had also been abused by Johns, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

Police checked records at the cathedral which detailed the 1993 complaint dealt with by the Right Rev Harland, who died three years ago.

Johns, of Kings Road, Coltishall, Norwich, pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to sexual offences committed against three boys - aged between 14 and 17 at the time - between 1983 and 1991.

Sentencing him, Mr Justice Singh said: "As you accept, you have ruined your life and brought disgrace upon yourself."

He said his pre-sentence report had summarised his behaviour as "manipulative" and "predatory".

Tim Brennand, prosecuting, said: "In 1993 the complainant met the then Bishop of Carlisle and he described the meeting as bizarre.

"He intimated to the police that the church's stance was very defensive in relation to the defendant's position. No formal action was taken in so much as a report to the police."

It is understood that Johns was transferred to the new post at Caldbeck following guidance from a forensic psychiatrist that suggested he would not offend again.

In 2000, the complainant set up a meeting with Johns himself with a view to forgiving him and moving on with his life.

Mr Brennand said: "But he was disappointed in the reaction of the defendant who seemed to be concerned about how the allegations had affected his pension, causing him financial difficulties."

John Morgans, defending, said his client had gained no advantage by the police not being informed at the time.

"This was investigated by the church and they did take action," he said. "It was not for him to make the choice to go to the police. That was complaint-led.

"It was a demotion in the church, moving away from where he was living.

"Ultimately a 'shaking of the hands' with an agreement that matters had been aired, that apologies were issued and then he was dealt with by the church."

He said the church's decision at the time had effectively worked as there had been no repetition since of his sexual indiscretions.

Johns received a three-year jail term for two counts of indecent assault and four counts of gross indecency in relation to one victim. He received additional sentences of six months each for acts of gross indecency on the two other teenagers.

Johns used classic techniques of grooming as he gained his victims' trust and confidence before he plied them with alcohol, the court was told.

Sexual activity would often take place while he would watch pornographic videos with them.

With his third victim, on one occasion he took a church service at Carlisle Cathedral and then removed his collar robes to visit a shop and rent two such videos.

He would tell the boys that they must keep his abuse a secret and that no-one would believe them anyway if they spoke of it, the court heard.

In victim impact statements, the 1993 complainant said he had undergone lengthy counselling after a failed marriage. He suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts.

Another victim was prone to anxiety and agoraphobia while the third victim experiences flashbacks and night terrors.

The court heard from the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, Richard Pratt, that the congregations affected had expressed their "shock, horror and betrayal" at the situation.

In mitigation, Mr Morgans said: "He demonstrates total remorse, not because he is here in this crown court but based on genuine insight into his actions. All he asks me to do is to apologise.

"He is sorry. He is sorry because he has betrayed the church he loves. He has betrayed his family, himself, the complainants' families and the complainants.

"The chances of any future offending are nothing but low."

A number of references were handed to the judge.

Mr Morgans continued: "The fact is that he has done many good things in his life. He has helped many people.

"He has lost his reputation and his good name and character. That is already a real punishment from him. He will be remembered for this case and not the good he has undoubtedly done."

The current Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Rev James Newcome, said: "We unreservedly condemn this and any abuse. Jesus made it clear that those who are most vulnerable should be most precious, and hence safest with the Church.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

"We apologise again to them for failing to take the action we should have done when Ronald Johns's crimes first came to light."

A spokesman for Carlisle Diocese said: "A prison sentence can never be a matter of pleasure, nor can it put right wrongs that were done, but the sentence given to Ronald Johns today is just and fair and reflects the gravity of his offences.

"We know that those abused can be manipulated by the abuser so that they are the ones who end up feeling guilty, while the abuser attempts to excuse himself. The Diocese of Carlisle therefore hopes that Ronald Johns's victims will feel that this sentence lays clear the truth: Ronald Johns did wicked things, which were not their fault or responsibility.

"We thank the police for all their work, those who deal with these very painful and stressful sorts of cases deserve our prays and support.

"In case anyone is affected by these matters, we have set up a special helpline with the NSPCC 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where independent, confidential and sensitive advice can be sought. The number is: 0808 800 5000 (calls free from UK landlines). The county council social care department can also offer help and advice, their number is 0333 240 1727 Or, of course, people can ring the police directly on 101."

Investigating officer Detective Inspector Gary McFadden: "Today's court appearance marks the end of a 12-month police investigation which only began due to the bravery of the victims who had the strength to come forward and report what had happened to them all those years ago. This takes remarkable strength and they have remained our focus throughout the investigation. Many of those victims were in court today to see justice being brought by the sentence which was imposed.

"Johns abused his position of trust to commit heinous crimes against children - and now, almost 20 years on he has received his punishment."