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Justice at last for child-abuse victims of former deputy head teacher

The former deputy head teacher of a North Devon boarding school for vulnerable young boys has been jailed for 21 years after being found guilty of carrying out a two decade long “reign of terror”. Last week, 74 year-old John Downing was found guilty of sexually and physically abusing boys at the school, between 1970 and 1985.

Two of Downing’s victims, former pupils of Heanton boarding school, reported the abuse to the police in the 1990s but at that time it was decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution. In the years that followed several of his victims got in touch with each other and fresh complaints were investigated by police.

Earlier this month, seven of Downing’s victims endured the ordeal of giving evidence at a second trial; the jury at the first trial last year having been unable to reach a verdict. This time, it took a jury at Exeter Crown Court less than 3 hours to return a unanimous guilty verdict.

When sentencing, Judge Graham Cottle said to Downing: “It is many years since these crimes were committed, but you must now answer for the catalogue of sexual abuse that you perpetrated on the seven complainants. […] I strongly suspect this case has no more than scratched the surface of the extent of the abuse of children at Heanton School for which you were responsible, but I only sentence you for the offences of which you were convicted.”

In the same week that it is revealed Lord Greville Janner should have faced multiple child sex abuse charges, but twice avoided trial due to CPS mistakes and now will not face prosecution at all, it is encouraging to see that elsewhere justice is being done. I hope the conviction of John Downing and the serious and robust way in which the police treated the victims’ reports, gives others who have suffered similar abuse the courage now to speak out

Many of the abuse victims I represent in civil claims have endured horrendous sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of those who should have been taking care of them. In many cases, when they reported the abuse to the authorities, or others at the time, they were ignored, accused of lying or, in some cases, subjected to further beatings as punishment.

The clear willingness of the police to now investigate allegations of historic abuse and their determined commitment to securing convictions should give victims hope that there’s now a good chance that justice really will be done if they come forward.