Church organist is jailed for ‘cruel and shocking’ child abuse

Church organist is jailed for ‘cruel and shocking’ child abuse


norman lebrecht

April 13, 2015

A deputy headmaster and church organist in North Devon has been jailed for 21 years for subjecting boys in his care to physical and sexual abuse.

John Downing, now 74, was deputy head of Heanton School, near Braunton, North Devon, from 1968 to its closure in 1985. He was organist at Torrington church for 50 years. Seven victims testified against him.

torrington church


  • Alexander says:

    To be fair to the Church of England the offences seem to have been unconnected with his role as a church organist.

    A truly shocking catalogue of offences nonetheless. It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t brought to justice years ago and has therefore enjoyed many years as a free man that he did not deserve. He’ll be out in ten and a half years, so could well live to be a free man once again, albeit on licence until the age of 95. If he’d been charged according to today’s laws he’d have had a rape conviction and a potential life sentence. Of course, the actual life sentence is the one suffered by his victims. What sentence would have been enough? 7×70 years=490 years, perhaps? Thinking of some words of Primo Levi, if only it were possible that he could live, and never sleep, for 490 years.

  • Chris Fox says:

    I am not happy that this conviction was at all safe or the facts true. I was at this school from 1967 to 1971 although it is reported the school was opened in 1968! John Downing was a very young house master at my time there and was extremely kind and generous with his time with me and many other boys. I trusted him without question. on occasions he would take me and one other boy fishing to Stevenstone for good behaviour at the end of the week. Other staff would do the same. I looked forward to the trips he organized and learnt about fishing, the organ at Torrington Church where he taught me to play “Trumpet Voluntary”. I was 8 years old when I started school there and was very small and under developed with stunted growth. I at no time during the years feared John Downing in anyway, which I cant say for some other members of staff. I have since John Downings sentence reseached some of the “Victims” internet conversations before and after the sentencing and I must say it gives reason for concern to say the least. If anyone would like my name and contact details for legal or otherwise I am happy to contribute. This whole episode does not sit comfortable with my mind at all. My fond Memories of John Downing are of a man with empathy to the situation we were found in through no fault of our own. He was kind, understanding and tried his best to make up for the lack of care that we so lacked. There were some wonderful staff there but equally some quite cruel individuals too and John Downing was certainly not the latter!

  • mark jolley says:

    I was a pupil there from 1971 too 75!! Yes he was an evil man in my opinion!! He had what I call his favourites unhealthy interest in certain boys ! Ie rubbing there hair and cuddling ect! So glad his past has caught up with him!