Paedophile John Humphreys continued role while under investigation
The Conservative Party in East Devon has come under fire for failing to explain how jailed former councillor, John Humphreys, was allowed to stay in the party and even given a local honour, despite being investigated for sexually abusing boys.
Humphreys, who once served as mayor of Exmouth, is serving a 21-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting two teenagers in the early 1990s and early 2000s.
He was first questioned in 2005 but police did not find sufficient evidence. But following a complaint by another victim he was arrested in 2016, before being released under investigation on suspicion of sexually assaulting both boys.
Humphreys continued to be a councillor until May 2019 and in December that year was presented with the honorary title of alderman by East Devon District Council (EDDC), allowing him free parking in the council’s car parks and the opportunity to represent the council at some functions.
At a full council meeting on Wednesday 20 July, some councillors demanded to know what senior Tories knew about the investigations into Humphreys and why he was allowed to continue in his role.
A motion also asked for the council to call on East Devon Conservative MP, Simon Jupp, to use his influence to “obtain from the relevant part of the Conservative Party an urgent explanation as to what went wrong with the Conservative Party’s vetting and safeguarding processes.”
The motion was proposed by Independent councillor for West Hill and Aylesbeare, Jess Bailey, who said: “In the 11 months since his conviction, answers have been sought from the Conservative Party.
“For 11 months, we have been met with a deafening wall of silence. No one from the Conservative Party, locally or nationally, has provided any answers as to why it failed to suspend John Humphreys’ party membership in 2016 and to prevent him having any further involvement with activities that could bring him into contact with children.”
Humphreys was already a councillor when he was arrested in 2016. He did not seek reelection to EDDC but was elected as an Exmouth Town Councillor in May 2019.
In April councillors agreed to commission an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the award of alderman to Humphreys.
Cllr Bailey argued Simon Jupp may be able to get answers that councillors had failed to do.
“Surely Simon Jupp, our MP, is best placed of anyone to help this council obtain that information about what went wrong within the Conservative Party, practices and procedures and provide reassurance they have been rectified,” she said.
She acknowledged that Mr Jupp, who was elected in December 2019 before Humphreys crimes became public knowledge, was not to blame for failings in the selection process.
“Of course, I accept that Simon Jupp is not personally responsible for safeguarding and vetting. Instead, we call on him to obtain an explanation from the relevant part of the Conservative Party urgently.”
Labour councillor for Exmouth Halsdon, Paul Millar, backed Cllr Bailey and recalled questions asked by one of Humphreys’ victims to the council.
“To paraphrase what one of the brave victims asked through Cllr [Eileen] Wragg at one of our meetings … who knew he was being investigated for these serious offences?” Cllr Millar said.
“And why was he allowed to carry on as though nothing was happening? That’s the question every relevant agency needs to look at through independent inquiries in the coming months.”
Independent councillor for Exmouth Town, Joe Whibley, suggested there was no one brave enough to tackle issues surrounding sex abuse.
“It’s quite clear from the John Humphreys affair that we simply do not know or do not have the courage to be able to act properly in such a situation, either individually, as an officer or at full council level,” said Cllr Whibley.
“Because we sit here time and time again nodding our heads and saying how terrible this is. But by doing nothing, we are potentially letting that happen again.”
Among the most emotional comments on the debate came from Cllr Eileen Wragg (Lib Dem, Exmouth Town) who had been in contact with Humphreys’ victims.
She explained how she only narrowly beat him in an election as a county councillor and added: “Had he got into county council, he would have had access to children’s services, vulnerable adults, all sorts of people, schools, colleges, you name it, he’d have been there. And yet, he would have been believed against any accusation or allegation.
“Clearly, what’s happened here is that politics have been put before the safeguarding of children and Devon County Council, as the safeguarding authority, should hang its head in shame.”
Cllr Bailey repeated her call for Mr Jupp to help put pressure on the Conservative party structure in order to get answers.
“Everybody knows that Simon Jupp isn’t primarily responsible for safeguarding,” she said.
“We’re calling on him to help us. We know it’s not his duty to check the forms within the Conservative association. That’s the conservative association.
“The Conservative association chair is Councillor Bruce de Saram [a councillor representing Exmouth Littleham on East Devon District Council]. He’s never given any answers. So, the idea that we can all just work together and move forward is just not credible because you haven’t answered the questions.”
Before the meeting, Mr Jupp responded to Cllr Bailey to clarify the position. In an email, he wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that Conservative Party processes, including vetting and safeguarding, are entirely separate from my role as member of parliament.
“The chair of East Devon Conservative Association is the appropriate person to contact in relation to the issues raised within the motion.”
However, the motion, for the council to express its deep disappointment that the Conservative Party allowed John Humphreys to hold prominent roles for more than four years and to call on Mr Jupp to ask senior party members for answers, was passed.
In total 32 councillors backed the motion and 13 abstained. All those who abstained are members of the Conservative group.