The survivors of a horrific cycle of non-recent child sex abuse bravely confronted their abuser in court today (Wednesday 30 June), where he was branded a ‘conniving and exploitative serial paedophile’.
Mark Burgess, aged 68 years, of St Chads Avenue in Hilsea, was handed a 40 year sentence at Portsmouth Crown Court today after he was convicted of abusing children over a period of nearly four decades. He will serve a minimum of 21 years in jail before being considered for parole.
Following an investigation by Hampshire Constabulary’s Operation Marmion team, Burgess was charged with a raft of offences relating to 13 children, all of whom were under the age of 16 during his time as a choirmaster for the All Saints church choir in Portsmouth, and Westbourne Choir in Sussex between 1975 and 2009.
On 28 May this year, following a lengthy trial, he was convicted of the following offences:
• 26 counts of indecent assault
• 15 counts of gross indecency with a child
• 4 counts of buggery
• 1 count of attempted indecent assault
• 2 counts of sexual activity with a child
During the trial, which began on 15 March, Portsmouth Crown Court heard that Burgess had previously been a music teacher as well as a 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 in the school and 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.
In emotive statements read out in court, the survivors told of the damage Burgess had inflicted on so many lives, with one describing his abuser as a ‘festering, rancid boil’.
Others spoke of how Burgess manipulated, groomed, charmed and bribed his way into their lives for his own sexual pleasure, and labelled him abhorrent, deplorable, calculating and despicable.
One survivor, now an adult woman, told how the abuse at Burgess’s hands had affected her passion for music. In a statement, she said: “This person helped me use my voice to make beautiful music, but I would become too ashamed to ever use it again.”
Another, who was abused at the age of 13, told the court: “You took a bright, naïve, funny, energetic child and you destroyed all of that in the most cynical and vile way.”
Speaking of finding his voice after all these years, he continued: “It has been a very difficult process, but I take courage and strength from the survivors here, and the love and support of my family.”
Passing sentence, His Honour Judge William Ashworth commended the survivors in this case for coming forward, and commented on the ‘dignity, restraint and stunning openness’ in which they spoke about their experiences.
Following the sentencing, Detective Inspector Adam Edwards said: “Burgess made a choice to exploit his position and manipulate certain scenarios that would give him the opportunity to carry out these heinous and evil acts.
“These were young children, and he deliberately preyed on their naivety for his own sordid agenda.
“He is now behind bars, where he belongs, for a very long time.
“The survivors in this case have shown an incredible amount of bravery and strength throughout this entire process, which has ensured that the cowardly man who sat in the dock can’t hurt another person again.
“Their courage is to be commended. I am pleased that justice has now been served and these brave individuals have had their voices heard after years of keeping this abuse secret.”
An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Burgess brutally abused his position of trust at the cruel expense of his victims’ wellbeing.
“This case shows that perpetrators of child abuse can be brought to justice, no matter how long ago or who they are, and we hope that this sentencing allows the survivors to move on with their lives.”
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, anyone who has experienced abuse in childhood or is concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline confidentially on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected] Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111.