December 2018

Former Children’s home boss jailed for abusing boys

A former children’s home boss has been jailed for repeatedly sexually abusing boys in his care.

John Webber ran the Old Rectory near Chichester in the 1970s, earning children’s trust and trying to act like a father figure.

But the Brighton-based octogenarian had a “dark side”, where children who challenged him had no chance at all.

At Hove Crown Court he was found guilty of three counts of buggery, where he raped boys as young as eight, along with 19 counts of indecent assault, two counts of attempted buggery, and two acts of indecency with a child.

The true number of the attacks is much higher, as he targeted victims multiple times.

Judge David Rennie said the 89-year-old, of Clifton Hill in Brighton, had “no conscience” and had cruelly exposed his victims to a public trial.

He jailed the paedophile for a total of 32 years, and said the offences had done “incalculable harm”.

Victims described how they felt “traumatised”, and one said he gets flashbacks where he can still smell Webber’s tobacco, and feel Webber licking his face.

They have struggled with relationships and felt feelings such as guilt and shame, with one saying the trial had been the most terrifying experience of his life.

One said: “He seemed to be like a father figure, but he exploited me. The sexual abuse has stayed with me for all my life.

“Up until now my voice has not been heard, I did not believe someone would believe this boy and care for what he went through.”

Jennifer Knight, prosecuting, said Webber had used planning and grooming behaviour, and said it was an “overwhelming abuse of trust”.

Philippa McAtasney, defending, said her client was “shell-shocked” by the guilty verdict, and felt the victims had “turned on him”. She said he has positive attributes and has done “honourable” things in his life. Now his reputation is in tatters.

But the judge was not impressed. He said: “They trusted you and looked up to you, they had no idea that their trust was to be betrayed in the most appalling ways for years with multiple victims.

“You turned out not to be a kind fatherly figure. That was a public persona of charm, but in private you revealed the dark side. The reality is you are a predatory paedophile.

“You saw the children as nothing more than objects to satisfy your perverted desires. You have no conscience.”

The judge said the care home had a reputation for being strict and austere before Webber’s arrival, and he had brought “sudden excitement and relief” with a more relaxed environment.

Activities included archery, cycling, camping and looking after animals. The food improved, and many saw Webber as a father figure.

But the judge said the children had nowhere else to go, and there was no inspection regime.

“You were beyond criticism, if a boy challenged you there was no contest, the child stood no chance at all.

“The final act of betrayal was to put the victims through the trauma of a criminal trial, where you ducked and dived to avoid blame.

“It was a cynical, cowardly and cruel thing to do to to those people.”

Previously, Webber was sent to prison for possessing sick images of children and boasting about his desires on chat rooms in 2001.

The judge sentenced Webber to 20 years for one count of buggery on one boy along with two further concurrent sentences for eight and 12 years.

For buggery against another boy the judge added a consecutive sentence of 12 years.

For other victims of indecent assault he added concurrent sentences of nine years, seven years, seven years, and fours years respectively.

In total it was a 32-year sentence, of which Webber must serve at least half.

The judge added: “You got away with your grave crimes for decades, but now it has caught up with you at the end of your life.The victims’ voice was finally heard, they were believed and their lives will be better for that.”