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Police accused of harassing child sex crime victim

Thursday, December 9th, 2021 5:12pm

By Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

John Humphreys is serving 21 years in prison

'Intimidation and threats' says man assaulted by councillor

A man who was sexually assaulted as a child by a former East Devon District councillor says “there are still so many questions to be answered” after addressing a full council meeting about "decades of pain and trauma" made worse, he alleges, by police inaction, intimidation - and even threats to his friends and family by police officers. 

John Humphreys, a former Conservative councillor and mayor of Exmouth, is serving 21 years in prison for sexual assaulting two boys 10 years apart. He had been arrested in May 2016 and was under investigation for over five years before going to court. The judge at his trial said six of his offences should be assessed against the modern guidelines for rape.

One unnamed victim, an Exmouth resident, wrote a letter to Councillor Eileen Wragg (Liberal Democrats, Democratic Alliance Group) which was read out at full council meeting this week. 

In the letter, the victim questioned why Mr Humphreys was allowed to carry on as councillor whilst he was being investigated, a process which began in May 2016. He also asked how no one knew Mr Humphreys was under police investigation when he was offered the honorary title of alderman in 2019.

The award is made by many councils, including East Devon, to former councillors who may then continue to represent the local authority at some functions.

In his letter read to councillors, the man wrote: “I am one of many victims of John Humphreys crimes and I want members and officers of this council and the public to hear of what I have had to endure for the last 22 years."

He explained that he was sent from school as a 14-year-old for work experience at Humphreys' gardening business where he endured multiple sexual assaults between 1999 and 2001. He told the council that he had made a statement to police in 2004 but that the case was dropped the following year. He alleges that besides making no progress on the case, the police harassed him.

When the revelations about Jimmie Saville came out after his death in 2011, the victim he decided to try again. He told the council: “I met my partner and when we found out she was pregnant I thought ‘let’s do something about it now I’m bringing a child into the world.’ 

“I rang up to get the case reopened again in 2012. All I got was a threatening phone call from a Tiverton officer. His near exact words were ‘Humphreys is now mayor. He’s getting on with his life. If you do anything or proceed with this in court, we will come for your friends and family.’

“I made an official complaint about the threats and was asked into Sidmouth police station. They said an apology will be read out.

"It was handwritten and wasn’t even an apology. I wasn’t given anything in writing that I could take away. When Humphreys’ case came to court this year, not being able to talk about how the police had treated me was my biggest concern. ‘Don’t open this can of worms right now,’ was all that was said to me.

"I just felt like blurting it out, stood in the box, once all the lies were being thrown at me.

“In 2015, after many more years of mental stress, a knock came on the door of my mum’s house. It was a female police officer. Someone else had come forward. I couldn’t believe it.

"I’d not been believed twice - but the other victim was a lot older than me and maybe more credible, and there was a third and fourth victim, too. But it still took another six years for justice to be done.”

Humphreys was originally arrested in May 2016 but it took over five years for the case to come to court.  The victim says that Humphreys knew that the case was live during the period of 2016 to 2021 - during which time he served as a councillor before standing down and subsequently being awarded the ‘alderman’ title for his services to the district. 

“This leaves me wondering,” read the letter, “‘who else knew and how was he allowed to carry on as usual being a councillor at Exmouth and East Devon?’

The victim said he had a psychological fear of Mr Humphreys because of his standing and influence in the community. He said: “I still feel that Humphreys has been favoured because of his connections, his apparent good character and social standing as a councillor.”

“In my mind, he has been a monster to me. He took away my teenage years and this has gone into my adulthood. I should have retained that innocence - but that choice was taken away from me by this man. 

“There are still so many questions to be answered. After the verdict, I was still ignored. I’d like to be heard. It is important to me that the council hears me, hears my statement. What difference it makes I don’t know. Maybe a few people will be sat there worried. It will be nice to be heard.”

Councillor Eileen Wragg, who was visibly upset after reading the statement, praised the bravery of the victim and his mother. She told the council that she met the victim earlier this month. She said: “He’s entirely credible. He’s obviously been deeply affected.

“The worrying aspect of this for me was there was no criminal record. A DBS check wouldn’t have picked that up. The worrying thing is that children were being sent from the school straight to a paedophile for work experience. That is so worrying. There is a lot more that needs to be investigated here.”

Leader of the council Paul Arnott (Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) said the victim is “one of the bravest people who has ever lived in East Devon.”

He added: “I think that’s really important. Not only has he seen this through to a prosecution, he has brought forward this statement tonight through Councillor Wragg.”

Councillor Ben Ingham (Conservative, Woodbury and Lympstone) thanked Cllr Wragg for reading the statement and the victim for writing the letter. He said: “I believe we all needed to hear that.”  

Cllr Arnott told the council that would be writing to the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Shawn Sawyer, asking him to “refer his force” to the Independent Office for Police Conduct to look at how the case was handled in earlier years. 

He will alo be writing to East Devon Conservatives asking if an inquiry has taken place into Humphreys and to share its conclusions if such an inquiry has taken place.

Cllr Arnott also said at full council that he believes some members of the council must have known that Humphreys was under investigation. The Conservative dismiss this claim, saying they did not know: “For the simple reason it would have been wholly inappropriate for the police to share details of a live investigation with those not connected with the case.”

In response to allegations about the conduct of police officers, a statement from Devon and Cornwall Police said: “We are aware of an East Devon District Council meeting that was held online yesterday (Wednesday 8 December), which included a statement that was read out on behalf of a victim of John Humphreys, the former mayor of Exmouth who was jailed in August for 21 years after being found guilty of historic sex offences against two boys.

“This case was a long and protracted investigation involving historic sexual offences that dated back more than 30 years to the early and late 1990s; the conviction was only possible due to the tenacity, patience and strength of the victims who put their trust in our officers who investigating these matters.

 “Whilst we sincerely hoped that the guilty verdict and strong sentence would allow our victims to move on with their lives, last night’s statement does show that more still needs to be done.

“Therefore, officers will be reaching out to the victims in this case to offer them further support, and if requested, to assist with commencing a formal complaint into how this case was initially handled.”

Read the letter in full here: https://bit.ly/3lRKcA5 

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