St Annes' Boys Brigade leader who indecently assaulted children is sentenced
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William Bissett, 84, of Rossendale Road, St Annes, was convicted by jurors of 17 counts of indecently assaulting boys in the 80s and 90s.
Judge Robert Altham, sentencing at Preston Crown Court, said: "You cynically used your position of trust in relation to those boys in order to carry out your abuse.
"You groomed some of them by setting up circumstances in which you could be alone with them, and you hid your abuse behind your position within the community."
Bissett was also found guilty of three counts of gross indecency and six of indecent assault against a fifth boy.
His crimes date back to a time he was involved in church activities at the Church Road Methodist Church, in St Annes, and was leader of the Boys’ Brigade.
One person had made a complaint in 2005 but the investigation did not proceed - however the same person was contacted by police in 2019 after another boy made a similar statement.
Another complainant came forward after seeing a news article about the initial charges against Bissett.
The victims cannot be identified for legal reasons.
Bisset's relatives sat in the public gallery to watch the proceedings.
Also present were three of his five victims, who returned to watch justice done, and their harrowing impact statements were read to the court room.
One man even chose to read his statement in person, thanking the police and the CPS for their professionalism and sensitivity, and his gratitude to the jury.
He said: " As a young boy I joined the Boy's Brigade with innocence and a sense of excitement "
He said Bissett took "full advantage of his vulnerability" and the abuse which took place has had a significant impact, affecting his emotions, confidence and relationships.
He added he had suffered guilt at not coming forward sooner, but added: "As a young boy I was somehow made to feel to blame for what he did to me and I've carried that blame for a long time."
He said it had taken a long time to realise the "guilt was not his to own."
Prosecuting, Richard Haworth read an impact statement from another victim.
The man said it had left him with a poor view on authority and all life.
He added: " I've moved on from this but it took until age 40 ish to come to terms with this."
Another victim said it was "something I tried hardest to forget about" and that it was "buried deep in his brain".
He added: " We were in his care and he abused our trust. He had no care for our mental wellbeing when he did what he did.
"The fact he still denies it happens and makes out we are liars adds insult to injury."
The man still has not told his elderly mother what had happened, and the judge reminded the court each victim is entitled to lifelong anonymity.
The third victim said: " I've always tried to say I was not a victim but that is what I am."
He recalled waking to the abuse frightened, not knowing what was going on.
He said school was hard for him and Bissett used this to his advantage to "shower him with praise".
The court is told with every week of abuse, Bissett's "control" of him grew tighter.
The fourth complainant explained suffering depression and anxiety, and finding it hard to mix with people and form relationships, adding: "For a long time I used to have nightmares about it thinking it was happening again.
"Over the years I felt it must have been my fault and I felt very guilty and ashamed."
The victim described feeling a "sense of relief and peace of mind" after the verdict, adding: "The effects of this have devastated my life for 30 years."
Defending, Chris Hudson said 30 people had written glowing references for Bissett, adding: "People have taken time and reflection to write them, and secondly they are written in the knowledge of his conviction and what he's been convicted of."
The judge pointed out his concern at some of the references, in which some former church ministers talk about Bissett being a "man without obvious guile" and "what you see is what you get."
A church administrator's reference described him as a "man of integrity", despite jurors finding he had lied in the course of his evidence.
Judge Altham said: " There's not a word about the victims in any of them."
He said the length of time the assaults had taken place, and the number of victims were aggravating features.
Referring to the victims he added: "All have been affected in different and varied ways.
"It's absolute clear in this case and from the many sorts of cases the court deals with, that sexual offending on young children has a profound effect upon them, often for the rest of their lives.
"Sexual abusers know that. They know that when they do what it is they do."
He said the victims had all shown "tremendous dignity" in the face of a man who went on to "tell a pack of lies."