John Allen trial: The mogul whose care homes echoed with victims' cries

Violent sexual predator used a string of Welsh properties to prey on children

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When John Allen stepped away from running his hugely successful care home business in 1991, having spent 25 years building up a network of properties for vulnerable children in north Wales, it is fair to assume he was looking forward to a quiet and very comfortable retirement.

Allen had displayed entrepreneurial flair early in life when he spent a couple of years managing pop bands in his 20s. He had married young but the relationship lasted only nine months after the couple realised they had made a mistake. But Allen’s next business move set the tone not just the rest of his life, but hundreds of others.

He was 27 and running a hotel when he and his future second wife, Norma, decided to open their first care home for vulnerable children in 1968. They found Bryn Alyn Hall at Llay, just north of Wrexham, obtained planning permission, and after inspection by the local authority children’s services opened the home.

Ten more Bryn Alyn Community homes followed over the years and by the 1980s hundreds of children were placed in the couple’s car. It was a lucrative business and one which expanded into England. At the peak of his power, Allen also ran care homes in Cheshire and Shropshire. Even in the 1980s, councils paid around £15,000 a year for a child to live in a Bryn Alyn home. It was a business empire that had an annual turnover of more than £2.5m – equivalent to almost £7m today.

Second homes in the Cotswolds and France, not to mention a yacht, were the rewards he had earned for giving boys and girls from troubled backgrounds a helping hand in life. Allen used the trappings of wealth not only for himself but also to give the vulnerable children in his care gifts they could never otherwise have received ranging from clothes and shoes to stereo systems and motorbikes.

John Allen, centre, surrounded by some of the children (NCA/PA)

It served one of two purposes: to buy silence or to groom his next victim – because rather than being a kind-hearted married man doing his best for society, Allen was in fact a predatory paedophile who abused his position of power and trust over decades. A highly intelligent and articulate businessman, Allen’s salary exceeded £200,000 by the time he retired. Yet as he relaxed, many of his victims were slowly coming forward to tell police what really went on in Bryn Alyn homes.

“People were terrified of John Allen,” said Detective Superintendent Ian Mulcahey, Senior Investigating Officer of Operation Pallial, the ongoing National Crime Agency investigation into abuse in the north Wales care system that this week secured its first conviction in John Allen when he was found guilty of 33 child sex offences.

“The vast majority who came forward said he was a violent man, so if you put yourself in the context of a young boy or girl at that age who was vulnerable anyway in care... he had significant power and influence. Allen claims he was a generous man. We say it was a means of exerting his influence and control over them.”

During his recent trial at Mold Crown Court Allen, now 73, denied all 40 charges against him, including indecent assault, indecency with a child, buggery and attempted buggery, branding his victims as “fantasists” wanting compensation who were blaming him for things that had gone wrong in their lives.

Twenty former Bryn Alyn residents – 19 boys and a girl aged between seven and 15 at the time – who had lived at the homes between 1968 and 1991 spoke out in court.

It took four weeks to complete their evidence.

One former resident told the court how Allen abused him in the back of a Rolls Royce before raping him in a hotel on Christmas Eve after being plied with alcohol. The victim, now in his 50s, said the offences happened when boys from his care home were meant to put on a Christmas show for local pensioners.

John Allen was found guilty of 26 charges of historical sex abuse against children (PA)

Another who arrived at his care home aged 10 said he was scarred by the cries and screams of boys being molested in their beds or taken away from their dormitories and abused night after night. He described an oppressive regime where Allen would deprive children who spoke out against the abuse of food and water. Staff knew what was occurring yet no one intervened.

When he pleaded not guilty to the offences two months ago, he was already a convicted paedophile having been found guilty in 1995 of six counts of indecent assault on boys. That verdict was the culmination of a painstaking three-year police investigation. Allen called it “a miscarriage of justice”. Norma divorced him, his reputation was in tatters and he was jailed for six years but released after serving half his sentence.

The Waterhouse Inquiry into the physical and sexual abuse of children in care homes across north Wales between 1974 and 1990 further exposed the extent of Allen’s crimes, with 28 victims accusing him of sex attacks. However, a judge ruled he would not receive a fair trial under European human rights legislation and Allen avoided being charged with 36 offences. He went into hiding.

By 2012 he was found working as a night porter at a Premier Inn hotel living alone and near penniless in a £120,000 one-bedroom rented flat in Needham Market, near Ipswich. The hotel suspended him when asked if it was aware of Allen’s history of crimes. Many of his victims still sought justice and when Operation Pallial began they came forward in large numbers once again.

Wandering into court wearing a flat-cap and smart shirts, Allen looked anything but the monster he was again found to be. On Thursday he was convicted of sexually abusing 19 children in care homes he ran on a “culture of fear” with those he abused terrified no one would believe them if they ever spoke out. Most of the abuse took place at three homes – Bryn Alyn, Pentre Saeson and Bryn Terion and Mr Justice Copeland warned Allen he faces a life sentence when the judge passes sentence on Monday. Allen is yet to show any remorse.

Det Supt Mulcahey said: “John Allen abused vulnerable children he was entrusted to protect. He had complete power and trust over those in his charge and he completely abused that trust. He was a violent man, which he used towards children in his care.

“He tried to control and manipulate his victims and often purchased expensive gifts as a means of exerting this control.”