Christopher Howarth was jailed for ten years this morning for sexual offences against children.
Howarth, 68, of Rocks Park Road, Uckfield, appeared via video link at Lewes Crown Court. The prison sentence was extended to add five years on licence after his release.
Her Honour Judge Shani Barnes presiding said this took account of Howarth’s “dangerousness”. After his release from prison he would be monitored carefully in the community. “In that way young men will be safe from you in the future.”
A Sexual Harm Prevention Order was imposed and Howarth was ordered to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register.
One of the terms of the Sexual Harm Prevention Order would prevent Howarth “seeking or undertaking any employment, voluntary or charitable, whether paid or unpaid, likely to allow him access to a person under 18 during the course of that employment”.
During sentencing the judge said everything she had heard about Howarth during the trial, from the boys and their mother told of the years of “support and love” he had given them. “You were generous with your time, love and material goods.”
But the family was “very vulnerable” while Howarth was highly intelligent and well educated and seriously manipulated them.
Judge Barnes said Howarth groomed the boys, who had a very poor start in life. There were opportunities for sexual favours, with Howarth telling the boys they could have something but in return they would have to give something.
It was made into a game and he managed to sustain their cooperation for years.
The judge said Howarth was at serious risk of causing “significant harm” to children in the future, even taking account of his disabilities, his size and his health.
She referred to his use of pornography, lack of an adult sexual relationship and to his text messages to one of the boys: “Come and have fun while my wife is out.”
The judge said the sentence she would pass would reflect the “harm and havoc” wreaked on the young men who came into his care, came into his church, school and life with the most “devastating” results.
Prosecutor Anthony Heaton-Armstrong said one of the boys was so badly affected psychologically by the offending against him that he was unable to give an impact statement.
Mr Heaton-Armstrong said he had moved away from the area he was used to, because of what he felt was the “alienation of the community”.
Many members of the community continued to support the defendant and both boys had been made aware that since the defendant’s convictions – by unanimous verdicts of a jury which heard all the evidence – the defendant had maintained his innocence and continued to enjoy the support of members of his family and a number of parishioners in the parish where he used to be a priest.
“In addition to the impact of having to move away they have also now had to suffer the fact that, in spite of 12 independent members of the public who heard all the evidence deciding the defendant was guilty, other people, who are intelligent people, have continued to side with the defendant.
“That causes them huge offence, and will continue to cause them huge offence throughout the rest of their lives.”
Defending, Marcus Fletcher, said Howarth couldn’t be responsible for the views or expressions of friends and asked that the assertion by the Crown be put to one side.
But the judge said she was obliged to consider the impact on victims. She said there was huge support in the community “because of this man’s influence in the religious and academic world. The impact on the community is going to be enormous and the impact on the children is aggravated because there was no understanding or sympathy.”
Mr Fletcher said Howarth had wanted to be in the court today, he was not seeking to escape the glare of publicity.
The judge said she had asked for arrangements to be made to allow him to be present but there had not been a way of getting Howarth into the building and up to the court because of his physical difficulties.
Mr Fletcher said that before Howarth became a convicted sex offender, by the unanimous verdict of a jury at ten to three on July 17, Howarth had been a man of “exemplary good character”.
Mr Fletcher had received a bundle of references and letters of support running to tens if not 100s and it was interesting to note that despite publicity there hadn’t been an “avalanche” of other cases coming forward against Howarth even though hundreds of boys had passed through his office and a choir. “There is a lot of good about him.”
Mr Fletcher said that from an early stage Howarth had arranged community volunteers at his school, organised other pupils to attend to the elderly with mobility problems and he had assisted with Meals on Wheels.
There had been mixed views arising as a result of his convictions, some supportive and some of a lynch mob mentality.
Mr Fletcher asked the judge to take account of Howarth spending the first two weeks of his time awaiting sentence in hospital and six weeks in a prison wing reserved for people on their first day in prison.
He spent 23 hours a day in his cell, there were no facilities for him to exercise and this had caused his health to deteriorate. Five days without diuretic pills left him immobilised and ulcers which had not been treated could prove fatal.
Mr Fletcher asked the judge to take into account that it took a long time from complaints being made to the trial. “He was, in effect, under a form of house arrest. He couldn’t go to church, couldn’t work, wasn’t allowed to work, wasn’t allowed to go in church. He couldn’t attend funerals of great friends which took place during that period and couldn’t explain why that was.”
Howarth, a retired deputy principal at Uckfield Community Technology College, was also a non-stipendiary priest at Holy Cross Church and a prominent figure in Uckfield.
Howarth pleaded guilty to two sexual offences and was found guilty of 26 more after a trial at Hove Crown Court in July. The offences took place between 2004 and 2011 and involved two boys, one of them when the boy was aged between ten and 17, the other when he was aged between 11 and 15.
Detective Constable Amy Green said after the sentencing: “Howarth came to know the boys in his capacity as a lay priest at Holy Cross C of E church in Uckfield, when they were very young, and befriended them over several years, giving support, but also offending against them. He was suspended by the Church as soon as the allegations came to light.
“Some of the offences against both boys took place in the study at his home, and one of the boys was also assaulted in Howarth’s office at Uckfield Community Technology College, where Howarth was deputy principal until his retirement eight years ago.
“The Diocese of Chichester and the College have given us full co-operation throughout this investigation.
“The two victims, now adults, gave evidence by live video-link into the court during the trial in July and were subject to robust cross-examination. Their evidence clearly convinced the jury of Howarth’s guilt on 26 of the 31 indictments. He had already pleaded guilty to two other offences against one of the boys.
“This was a complex and sensitive case, but it illustrates once again the way in which we will always take seriously such allegations, refer victims to sources of support and counselling, and where appropriate will recommend prosecution.”