BREAKING HAMPSHIRE PORTSMOUTH

Former choirmaster and school teacher convicted of child abuse spanning nearly four decades

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A former choirmaster and school teacher from Portsmouth has today (Friday 28 May) been convicted of sexually abusing children over a period of nearly four decades.

Mark Burgess, aged 68 years, of St Chads Avenue in Hilsea, was charged with 52 offences following an investigation by Hampshire Constabulary’s Operation Marmion team.

The offences relate to 13 children in total, who were under the age of 16, during Burgess’s time as a choirmaster for the All Saints church choir in Portsmouth, and Westbourne Choir in Sussex between 1975 and 2009.

As part of this investigation, Burgess faced the following charges in court:

27 counts of indecent assault
17 counts of gross indecency with a child
5 counts of buggery
1 count of attempted indecent assault
2 counts of sexual activity with a child
Following his trial at Portsmouth Crown Court, which began on 15 March this year, Burgess was found not guilty on four of the counts – one indecent assault, two counts of gross indecency with a child and one count of buggery – but he was convicted of the remaining 48 by the jury, who had spent a week deliberating their verdicts.

During the trial, the court heard that Burgess had previously been a music teacher and choir master, vocations which had brought him into contact with children time and again.

Burgess had taught at Portsmouth City Boys’ School and also ran choirs in St John’s church in Westbourne, Sussex, and All Saints church in Commercial Road in Portsmouth.

The court heard that, over the years, his attention became ‘fixed’ on a series of children. Burgess then took advantage of his positions of trust, either in the school or choir settings, in order to get closer to these children and draw them, and sometimes their families, into his trust.

These children were then sexually abused by Burgess, with assaults taking place during piano lessons at Burgess’s home address or in the church vestry, in Burgess’s car, on choir trips out of county, and in the school music room.

After decades of keeping this a secret, the children – all now adults – found the confidence to report this abuse to the police.

Following Burgess’s conviction, Detective Inspector Adam Edwards said: “Burgess denied the allegations made against him, and falsely tried to deflect the blame onto others. I am pleased the jury saw through his lies and justice has now been served.

“I want to commend the bravery of all the survivors who came forward to speak to police about this abuse.

“They have had to relive some of the worst experiences of their lives by going through the trial process, but their courage and commitment to bringing Mark Burgess to justice has ensured that he will be rightly punished for these horrific crimes.”

In a joint statement, some of the survivors in this case said:

The extent of Mark Burgess’s abuse on all of us has been shocking and has turned our worlds upside down.

Having to bury such a dark secret for decades, only to have to relive it all again has been indescribable. Bringing up the past and coming to terms with what has happened at the hands of this monster has not been easy.

The abuse was horrific and calculated.

We had passions: music, singing, and the church. He exploited those passions for his ends.

He manipulated, groomed, charmed, and bribed his way into our lives for his sexual gratification. He knew better.

In court, his lies and attempts to manipulate and besmirch, show his abundance of arrogance and that he has never stopped abusing us; to put us through it in the first place was abhorrent, to put us through it again in court, beneath contempt.

The abuse has left a legacy of suspicion and a reluctance to readily trust people.

Innocent vulnerable children have had their childhoods wrecked by one man’s depravity. Knowing now that others had been targeted and were not immune is heart-breaking.

We have carried the hidden scars of guilt and shame, but we are better and stronger than him. We are valid and cared for human beings who are worthy of love and respect.

The memories of him and his actions will be with us for the rest of our lives; we will always have to live with the trauma of his abuse. Sadly, that will never end.

We are grateful to everyone who fought to bring him to justice – including the police and the detectives from Operation Marmion. We thank you.

To Mark Burgess: You have built yourself up to believe you are an accomplished musician and teacher, but from today, you will only ever be remembered as a manipulative paedophile who preyed on the innocent.

Burgess was remanded in custody to appear at the same court on 30 June for sentencing.

Operation Marmion is Hampshire Constabulary’s dedicated team who tackle non-recent child sex abuse perpetrated within an institution or by a person of prominence.

We would encourage anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse to contact police on 101 where you can speak with our specialist detectives in confidence.

Alternatively, contact Childline on 0800 11 11, or if you are an adult who has concerns about a child, you can call the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.