EDDC Leader Cllr Paul Arnott writes for the local press:
THIS is the most challenging article I have had to write in the last two years, and as with all difficult stories it is best to begin at the beginning. In the dying years of the last century an underage male was sent from Exmouth Community College for ‘work experience’ with a man called John Humphreys, who ran a gardening business and was eager to offer such opportunities.
Before long, the underage male (who I will refer to as DE) was sexually abused by Humphreys. This went on over a prolonged period of time. Eventually DE’s mother could see an awful change in her son.
She challenged him, and he told her about Humphreys’ abuse. In 2001, she took DE to the police.
From 2001 until the day Humphreys was sent to jail in August 2021 for an unprecedented 21 years, DE’s suffering was compounded by the way he was treated by the authorities. To DE, Humphreys was a living monster, seemingly untouchable.
He boasted of being a town councillor in Exmouth, and eventually its mayor, an East Devon District Councillor for Exmouth, and a swaggering bully in meetings about the development of the seafront. He was a mason of the highest lodge and, beyond parody, was sent by the Conservative party to be East Devon’s representative on the Police and Crime Panel. He was adored by the MP, Hugo Swim, whose wife Sasha couldn’t praise him enough in her indiscreet political diaries published last year.
One cannot find a Conservative today who will admit that they knew that Humphreys had been arrested back in 2016. If asked why they didn’t wonder what possible reason there was for such a powerful man not to stand for re-election to district in May 2019, they look the other way. It took them SIX months after he had been sent to prison to admit that Swire’s successor, Simon Jupp, had for months in the lead up to the December 2019 election been a guest in a property owned by Humphreys, where he’d committed his offences. The defence for Humphreys made much of what a great public servant he was, belittling DE’s evidence. At the trial, DE stated that Humphreys had traded on his social and political connections both to offend and then to evade prosecution for twenty years.
The council I lead was one of those organisations that leant him credibility – DE was owed a hearing. Over the ensuing months I met with DE, along with his mother, his victim support worker, a current officer in the police sex crimes unit, and eventually four other female councillors, who all saw that DE is a damaged but heroic man, now in his late thirties, paying the mental price for what Humphreys did to him every day of his life.
Last week, five months after EDDC voted to ask for an independent investigation, an experienced company called Verita was finally appointed to draw together what had happened to DE.
It is the least the people of East Devon can do for him.
In the debate last week I prayed that the Conservatives would not stoop low enough to describe this as ‘a waste of public money’ or ‘a political witch-hunt’, even as they either abstained or voted against (or just didn’t show up for) the vote. But of course they did
One of them even managed to twist his argument to accuse me of bullying the council into appointing Verita, when the idea and the motion to do so came from an entirely independent group of councillors. DE contacted me a few days before the debate; he wanted to speak at last. My job was to guarantee his anonymity on the day. Even as the Tories ranted against any investigation, and laid into me as well, he smiled at me across the room where he was safe. None of it came as any surprise to him