Press Association, May 31st 1994
by Chris Court, PA News
Police appeared unwilling to investigate allegations of child abuse against a sail training ship skipper who was later jailed for indecently assaulting boys, a report said today. But the Devon and Cornwall force re-jected the criticism and said it was “astonished” that it was not consulted during the internal Cornwall County Council inquiry which produced the report. The inquiry was launched after 49-year-old Michael Johnson was jailed for four years on six specimen counts of indecent assault against two boys who were then aged nine and 11. Bearded Johnson, formerly of Fowey, Cornwall, assaulted the boys 50 times between June 1989 and November 1991, Truro Crown Court was told at the trial in February. He abused them on sailing holidays run by the Cornwall-based Azimuth Trust, which he helped form, picking his victims as favourites from child crews.
Johnson, who had worked for the county council as a teacher since 1970, commited the offences on board ship, at his home, and at an authority outdoor education centre he helped run. He cor-rupted the youngsters after a council disciplinary hearing in 1987 cleared him of sexual allegations against a boy, but gave him a written warning. The internal inquiry was launched amid parents’ claims that Johnson should not have been allowed to work with children after he was disciplined. But inquiry chairman Mrs Pip-pa Engelfield said today that the decision to giving the written warning was the right one, given the proce-dures in place at that time. Meanwhile, St Ives Conservative MP David Harris called on Education Secretary John Patten and Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley to hold an independent inquiry into child abuse from a “national viewpoint”.
The report’s 21 recommendations included one that the area’s child protection committee should consider whether the “apparent unwillingness” of the police to investigate child abuse allegations in 1987 and initially in 1992 could be further examined. The report said there was “confusion” in August 1992 as to whether or not police were involved, and noted that several “vital and senior” police and social services personnel were on holiday. But police press officer Roger Busby said the report contained inaccuracies, and added that deputy chief constable Keith Portlock would be having discussions with Cornwall’s director of social services. Officers said today that police acted as soon as they had a complaint and evidence. They also extradited Johnson from Gibraltar, and it was the police case which put him behind bars. Parents of children involved had thanked officers for the sympathetic manner in which the investigation was conducted, they added.
The council report also recommended:
Changing the make-up of disciplinary panels concerning child abuse
Improving the monitoring of disciplined staff if they returned to work
Advising parents of alleged child abuse victims of the outcome of hearings
Considering the issue of the fitness of trustees to serve on charities concerned with children. Mrs Engelfield said the report would be sent to the Department of Health.