A BROOKWOOD sex fiend was one of five men jailed on Friday for grooming and sexually abusing four young choristers.
Robert Lawty’s five-year sentence was passed at Croydon Crown Court in his absence after being rushed to hospital with a suspected overdose when convicted the day before.
The families of the victims were unaware that the boys, aged from seven to 14 years old, were being preyed on until decades later when, one by one, they reported the abuse of the five defendants. The boys had been ‘groomed’ with alcohol, pornography and other lures.
The other four convictions were: Mark Jales, 51, of Lower Godney, Wells, who received 12 months; IT company director and former funeral director Phillip Tuffill, 55, of Redhill, who received 14 years; Timothy Fuller, 53, of Stoke-on-Trent, who received six years; and Ian Coulthart, 62, of Brighton, who received three-and-a-half years.
Passing sentence Judge Jeremy Gold QC told them: “I don’t know if you know or care of the damage you have done, but it’s been long-lasting. This was a gross and cynical abuse of power.” A sixth defendant, Gerald Heather, 65, of Swindon was cleared of three counts involving two of the boys.
The victims were all pupils at St Bartholomew’s Primary School in Sydenham and sang in the St Bartholomew’s Church choir, which was run by convicted paedophile Tony Brockhurst, a funeral director who killed himself approximately five years ago, aged 80.Tuffill, who shared a house with Fuller in Gowland Place, Beckenham, was an employee of the undertakers where Brockhurst had been a funeral director – H Copeland & Sons – and Jales was one of their drivers.
Tuffill, Heather and Coulthart were all members of the choir. One former choirboy was abused by all the defendants, the jury were told, having been initially groomed by Brockhurst when he was 11.
“He was a lonely little boy looking for warmth and attention and was groomed – including being given alcohol – and abused for three years,” explained Rosina Cottage QC. “Tuffill began to abuse him a year after he joined the choir.”
She informed the jury the defendant had sex with the boy after inviting him to his home, where he was given alcohol and treated to a chinese meal. She said: “The boy thought it was his purpose, and the way of his relationship with these men. They were trusted by the parents, they were connected to the church and the choir, and there was no question about their integrity. They learned how to choose their victims and groom them so they would not say ‘no’.”
The court heard that Fuller had been jailed for six months in 1987 for gross indecency with a boy, and in 2005 received 18 months for indecently assaulting a boy aged under 14. “He is a man sexually attracted to children,” said Miss Cottage. “He has a history of abusing boys and sexually assaulted the first complainant in this case as well.”
The jury were told Tuffill had asked Fuller: “Why don’t you try him out?” And that soon afterwards the boy was plied with alcohol by the defendant, who then had sex with him. It happened several times over the next few months.
The same boy was introduced at a party to married cook Lawty, 55, a friend of Tuffill’s. “He was plied with alcohol – red wine – and Lawty also drank,” said Miss Cottage.
The court heard that Lawty had sex with the youngster, and told him: ‘Once you’re in the ring, we’ve got you’. Miss Cottage added: “Lawty also asked him if he would have sex with his wife.”
Coulthart also had sex with the boy, who complained that it ‘hurt’. He and Brockhurst had their way with him at a cottage near Royal Tunbridge Wells.
Miss Cottage continued: “He [the boy] knew what was going to happen but did not complain because he was used to it by this time. Each man took it in turns with the boy on the carpet in front of the fire.”
The second victim, another chorister, claimed he was groomed by Tuffill, saying the defendant showed him pornography from Amsterdam and abused him in his own home when he was just 11, but the jury did not convict on these counts.
The boy remembers Heather as the driver of a minibus when the choristers were taken swimming or ten-pin bowling, and as someone who would treat them to a Chinese meal.
Churchgoer Jales – described by the boy as a ‘hanger-on’ – had laid out pornography on the bed before undressing the youngster and abusing him. “It was furtive and it was squalid,” recalled the complainant.
The court heard that the boy’s younger brother fell into the clutches of Tuffill aged just six. “He groomed and abused him,” said Miss Cottage. “Tuffill started touching him before he even joined the choir. He would pull down the child’s pyjama bottoms.”
The complainant recalls being abused on both days of a trip to Cheddar Gorge when he stayed at a B&B with Tuffill. A fourth complainant came forward and reported he had also been abused by Tuffill.
Tuffill was convicted of two sample counts of buggery in relation to the first boy; five counts of indecent assault in relation to the third boy and two counts of indecent assault in relation to the fourth boy.
Fuller and Lawty were each convicted of two counts of buggery in relation to the first victim. Coulthart was found guilty of one count of buggery in relation to the first victim, and Jales of indecently assaulting the second victim. All the counts span from January 14, 1977 to October 27, 1986.