Parents call for public inquiry over sex abuse skipper (21.2.94)

by Chris Court, Press Association

Horrified parents are demanding a public inquiry into sailing training skipper Mike Johnson’s sordid saga of seaborne child sex abuse. The parents were being backed by a former trustee of the charity which Johnson and a convicted child abuser set up to raise cash to send youngsters on the sea voyages. John Lambert was one of the original trustees of Cornwall-based Azimuth Adventure and Education Afloat, which Johnson formed in 1990 with psychiatrist Roderick Fraser to help the personal development of youngsters. Mr Lambert, from St Buryan, near Penzance, said he was at the time unaware that Johnson had been accused of shipboard child abuse but cleared by a 1987 Cornwall County Council disciplinary hearing, although he was given a written warning after admitting striking a boy during the same trip.

He was also unaware that 51-year-old Fraser had a conviction for indecently assaulting a 13-year-old boy. Fraser left the trust last year, when he was jailed at Southwark Crown Court for taking and distributing indecent photographs of children. Mr Lambert said details of people convicted of child-related offences should be kept on a nationwide file so they did not get jobs with access to children. People should be disqualified from becoming trustees of charities if anything was known about them which suggested a “lack of moral competence”. The father of one of the boys Johnson admitted abusing blamed Cornwall County Council. “If I had known about the internal inquiry, we would not have let our son anywhere near the place, even though the findings were inconclusive,” he said. “But we did not have access to that information.”

Investigation of sex abuse allegations against Johnson began when the father of a Scottish victim learned what Johnson did to his son and telephoned Mr Lambert, who alerted the authorities. Johnson, who began working for Cornwall County Council as a teacher in 1970, became a support teacher and outdoor education tutor at the authority’s outdoor adventure project at St Just, Roseland, in 1986. Despite the 1987 disciplinary hearing, he became head of the Roseland centre in 1990. Mr Lambert said he was “greatly concerned” that the county council knew Johnson was violent but put him back in a position where he had access to children, while schools sending children there did not know of any possible risk.

When the backgrounds of Johnson and Fraser emerged as a result of the investigation he set in motion, Mr Lambert said, he felt “disbelief, then anger”. Cornwall County Council director of education Andy Morgan defended the decision to allow Johnson to continue working at the Roseland centre. “The hearing came to a conclusion to give him a written warning,” he said. “If they thought anything else was appropriate, presumably they would have done something else.” Social services director Nigel Druce said that when the authority gave the Azimuth Trust a £250 grant in 1991, the connection between it and Johnson was not made.

“We did not appreciate this may have been an attempt to give the trust credibility, to attract other people. We will be more careful in future,” he said. The Charity Commissioners should make formal checks on people who put themselves forward as trustees of some charities, said Mr Druce. But the case demonstrated paedophiles’ determination to get into positions of authority over children, he said, adding: “This was not something which developed overnight. There was an investment of several years.” Johnson’s wife Elizabeth, who lives in France with her two children, Siobhan, 13, and Bevis, nine, said the scandal had “destroyed everything we have set up”. The couple’s semi-detached home in Fowey, Cornwall, was re-possessed, and their schooner, Grace O’Malley, was being held by a bank to which Johnson owed money.

  1. cassandracogno said:

    Thinking aloud: So do the Charities Commission now require CRB checks or checks of any kind on trustees (particularly of children-related charities) who put themselves forward? Wondering if there were any lessons learnt from this at all being almost 20 years on…

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