May 2002

Sex pest scout leader jailed for seven years

THE UK Scout Association has promised to review its vetting procedures after a Downham Market Scout leader, who sexually abused nine boys, was jailed for seven years.

Mike Hall (46) carried out some of the offences on camp trips, touching the boys when they were inside their sleeping bags, Norwich Crown Court heard on Friday.

Others took place at the former RAF serviceman’s home after he plied the boys with drink and cigarettes.

Mr Hall, formerly of Watlington, admitted 15 offences of indecent assault on nine boys, aged from 12 to 16, between 1989 and 1999.

Judge Paul Downes described Mr Hall as a “menace to young boys” and put him on the sex offenders’ register for life. He also banned him from working with young people and put him on extended licence for three years after his release from prison.

Judge Downes said: “You yourself were abused, and that is a two-edged thing. It does mean you must have been aware exactly what you were subjecting these boys to because you suffered the same thing.

“What makes it more serious is that you were in a position of trust and you abused that position.”

Lindsay Cox, prosecuting, said most of the offences occurred at camps, some at Thetford Forest. Some of the offences involved touching on top of the boys’ clothing.

Mr Hall was arrested on November 12 last year after some of the victims complained. A short while later he handed police a 25-page document in which he confessed to other assaults.

Mr Cox said the defendant had himself been sexually abused by a scout master. He claimed he was not sexually attracted to the boys but had touched them “in a protective way”, said Mr Cox.

Peter Britton, in mitigation, said Mr Hall had spent two days lying on a bridge overlooking a river before making his confession.

“He was clearly and obviously totally remorseful. He was a very respected member of the Downham and Watlington community and carried out work with other young people.”

He added that Mr Hall was “a ruined man”. His wife had left him and he was now living in a flat in Morecambe, Lancashire.

Mr Hall, said Mr Britton, had apologised to the young men, “a significant majority of whom made it clear they hold a great deal of respect for him”.

After the case, a UK Scout Association spokesman said there were clear procedures designed to minimise the chances of such problems occurring.

Checks were made on the background and previous history of any adult offering to become a leader. Local references were taken up and national records checked.

But he pointed out : “No system has yet been devised by the Scout Association, or any other agency working with young people, which is 100 per cent foolproof, or which can be used to detect first-time offenders.

“Parents are entitled to expect that their children are kept safe from harm while they are members of the Scout movement.

“Sadly, as in this case, when an adult betrays the trust that has been put in them it is a matter of great concern to us all.

“We can only offer our apologies and assure parents that the Scout Association will review its procedures in the light of this case to see if there are any learning points for the future.”

Norfolk Scouts’ deputy county commissioner James Kearns, who was at Friday’s hearing, said: “Certainly in this particular case it is an occasion where someone has abused the trust of young people and their parents and that is something which causes us all sadness.

“As far as the investigation is concerned, we have co-operated fully.

“When we were first made aware of the allegations our normal procedure was implemented immediately which was to suspend Mr Hall and fully co-operate with the statutory agencies.”

He said Mr Hall was a long-serving member of the Scout Association, mainly with the Downham Scout group of which he was a leader. He was suspended last November.

“The reassurance I would give to parents is that the Scout Association has been among the leading youth organisations in this country in implementing policies that protect young people,” Mr Kearns said.

“If a young person is left in the care of the Scouts they can be confident that steps have been taken to ensure the people managing them are fit to work with young people.

“When Mr Hall joined and was given his warrant to lead a troop, he would have undergone those checks.

“What we cannot account for is the behaviour of individuals once they have joined the movement, although we do carry out periodic reviews where concerns have been raised.”

Mr Hall was also a former project co-ordinator with the Rural Youth Bus, a colourful double-decker bus used to help establish new youth clubs in West Norfolk villages.

Young people, aged 13 to 25, in Denver, Hilgay, Southery, Middleton, Stoke Ferry and Feltwell were among those being supported by the multi-agency-backed vehicle and its teams of adult workers at the time of his involvement. Project chairman the Rev John Isaacs said Mr Hall’s spell in charge came to an end before any of these offences came to light.

He pointed out: “We always work with teams of three adults, so there’s no question of anything like that being able to happen within those circumstances.