Investigation launched into appointment of sex abuser as alderman

East Devon District Councillors have voted to commission an independent report to investigate the circumstances of how former Councillor John Humphreys was given the honour of being an alderman despite his arrest for sexually abusing two boys.

Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com 

The former Mayor was arrested in May 2016 and finally jailed for 21 years after a long police investigation in 2021. Yet, during the time between arrest and imprisonment, he was still the ‘lead member for Exmouth‘ and bestowed the honour of an alderman in December 2019.

Today (Wednesday 20 April), a motion was approved by councillors at the East Devon District Council (EDDC) Full Council meeting. It said: “That the Council commissions an independent report by the Local Government Association or the Centre for Public Scrutiny or another appropriate independent body to be expeditiously brought to Cabinet to provide a clear understanding how John Humphreys, despite his arrest in May 2016 continued to serve as a Councillor until May 2019, retained his position as ‘Lead Member for Exmouth’ and went on to be bestowed the honour of an alderman by this Council in December 2019.

“In particular the report will focus on the circumstances of how John Humphreys came to be nominated and bestowed the award of an aldermanship despite being under criminal investigation at the time. The Council will put on hold the remainder of the scrutiny recommendations (on the future of appointing alderman and alderwomen) pending the receipt and consideration of the independent report by the Cabinet. EDDC’s Chief Executive will prepare a report for consideration at a future meeting of the council’s Cabinet.”

A powerful letter was read out during a recent East Devon Council meeting from one of John Humphreys’ victims. He said “there are still so many questions to be answered” after addressing the last full council meeting about “decades of pain and trauma” which he claimed was made worse by police inaction.

The victim questioned why Mr Humphreys was allowed to carry on as councillor whilst he was being investigated, a process which began in May 2016.

In his letter read to councillors, the man wrote: “I am one of many victims of John Humphreys crimes and I want members and officers of this council and the public to hear of what I have had to endure for the last 22 years.”

He explained that he was sent from school as a 14-year-old for work experience at Humphreys’ gardening business where he endured multiple sexual assaults between 1999 and 2001.

He told the council that he had first made a statement to police in 2004 but that the case was dropped the following year. He alleges that besides making no progress on the case, the police harassed him.

When the revelations about Jimmy Savile came out after his death in 2011, the victim decided to try again.

He told the council: “I rang up to get the case reopened again in 2012. All I got was a threatening phone call from a Tiverton officer. His near exact words were ‘Humphreys is now mayor. He’s getting on with his life. If you do anything or proceed with this in court, we will come for your friends and family’.

“I made an official complaint about the threats and was asked into Sidmouth police station. They said an apology will be read out. It was handwritten and wasn’t even an apology. I wasn’t given anything in writing that I could take away. When Humphreys’ case came to court this year, not being able to talk about how the police had treated me was my biggest concern. ‘Don’t open this can of worms right now,’ was all that was said to me.

“I just felt like blurting it out, stood in the box, once all the lies were being thrown at me. In 2015, after many more years of mental stress, a knock came on the door of my mum’s house. It was a female police officer. Someone else had come forward. I couldn’t believe it.

“I’d not been believed twice – but the other victim was a lot older than me and maybe more credible, and there was a third and fourth victim, too. But it still took another six years for justice to be done.”

Anyone who may have been affected by anything raised in this article can contact police in their local area by emailing 101@dc.police.uk or calling 101.

The freephone NSPCC helpline 0808 800 5000 is available for anyone to report or seek advice about non-recent abuse. Calls can be made anonymously.

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