By their hand-wringing they all protected the vicar: the Church of England, the Humberside police, even the politicians.
When a Childwatch trustee, Geoffrey Dickens MP, tried to name him in Parliament, his question was returned “disallowed by Mr Speaker – unnecessary invidious use of a name.”
When complaints were made up to bishop level, the excuse was that there had not been a conviction.
When the police were questioned, they said they could not get a conviction because of the problem of corroborating the testimony of the boys.
And all the while, the Reverend Jan Borge Knos was able to carry on touring the council estate, picking up boys and abusing them; renting his soft porn videos from the shop, and flouting every moral law in the good book.
Crime paid, he owned a yacht. And while a trusting community was systematically raped by the vicar of St. Michael and All Angels Church, in Hull, the authorities did nothing.
Were we wrong to kick up a fuss? The Church of England thought so. But there were too many unexplained features to the case of Jan Knos, not least of which was the curious inactivity of the police.
They said they had investigated the complaints, and that a file had been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, which was then returned to them marked “No Action.”
This surprised us, because we were under the impression that Humberside Constabulary had failed to take any such action.
A piece of that part of the jigsaw had slipped into place, because Patrick Mayhew, the Attorney General, wrote to Geoffrey Dickens in July 1991:
…the police had carried out a full investigation but questions had been raised about a decision taken locally not to prosecute. It was open to the Director to call for the papers and he did so with the result that Mr Knos was charged with criminal offences.
Now we know that the police had decided not to prosecute, and that decision was taken in Hull – not in London. That decision was not good enough for the parents and teachers; they had no shortage of evidence about what was going on. They had to cope with the behavioural problems that were human testaments to the traumas which the Man of God was inflicting on his victims – with impunity.
Faced with the guns of the Big Battalions, the amateurs do start to get tarred with various brushes. We become “busy-bodies” or “do-gooders” who ought to leave the professionals to get on with their job. Jan Knos was their job, and they failed to bring his dirty deeds to a halt at the earliest possible time.
Robert Webster (who was to become a trustee of Childwatch) was deputy headmaster of Danepark Junior High School on Orchard Park Estate at the time. He was first alerted by a telephone call from a mother who said that her son, while absent from school, had been sexually assaulted by a “prominent person”. The rumours circulated, and eventually the name of the vicar came to the surface. His activities were common knowledge on the estate.
Robert Webster and the headmistress, Miss M.M. Whincup, wrote to the Chief Constable to express their “increasing concern at a situation known to the police but about which there appears to be no action of late”, and the reply from the Chief Constable’s deputy explained:
When young children are victims, the law demands that we must corroborate what they have to say before their evidence will be accepted by a Court, This has presented us with difficulties in the enquiries we have made up to the present time.
Again – children as out-laws, denied the full rights that are accorded to adults.
But that was not the full story. Corroborative evidence from adults either was obtained, or could have been obtained. Robert Webster was outraged at the inactivity of the police. He was to write in a memo:
I learnt from my school children that Jan Knos was going blatantly around the Estate with some young people chasing children and taking them away in his small estate van. I was given the time of night when this was happening along with the location in which it was happening and yet to the best of my knowledge, having passed that information to the police, no action was taken to catch him at it. I feel that the police might at least have provided plain clothes disguised men to keep surveillance on these happenings.
The police were too heavily engaged in wringing their hands over the credibility of children as eye-witnesses; that left no time to send detectives into the field to do the job for which they were paid. And so I mounted a media campaign to alert the general public, following which the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to intervene and overrule the locally-taken decision. The vicar was arrested. He died of a heart attack in Hull Prison before coming to trial.
Jan Knos had led a charmed life. No-one interrupted his extra-clerical activities. Why, they even tried to protect him while he was in his grave. The mother of one victim was told by the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev. & Rt. Hon. John Habgood: “I find the publicity which has followed Jan Knos’s death very distasteful because it seems to imply that a man can be judged after his death by the media, even though in life he had had no chance to defend himself.”
Jan Knos did not wish to have to defend himself, in this or any other world. And from the level of the street pavements – the ones from which he kidnapped and molested little boys – it looked as though there were people in authority who were conniving to grant him his wish.
Voluntary agencies like Childwatch, which are not armed with legal rights or taxpayers’ money, are obliged to use every means in the book to achieve justice. Their task is uniquely difficult when trying to protect children, because the law enforcement agencies still treat boys and girls as unbelievable.
– Extract from Chasing Satan by Dianne Core, founder of Childwatch.
More on Reverend Jan Knos:
Geoffrey Dickens, the doctor, and the vicar
Havers rebuffs Tory MP in child sex row (18.3.86)
Speaker prevents bid to name vicar – Geoffrey Dickens MP in clash on privilege (18.3.86)
MP says vicar to face prosecution (19.3.86)
Vicar quits after child sex claims (22.3.86)
Vicar facing 28 charges (10.4.86)
Sex-charge vicar dies (27.10.86)
Sex-charge vicar: Mum may claim (27.10.86)
Vicar in child sex case found dead in his cell (28.10.86)