Predatory Portsmouth choirmaster Mark Burgess who inflicted 'decades of guilt and shame' on abused children is jailed

A PREDATORY former choirmaster who inflicted ‘decades of guilt and shame’ on 13 children by subjecting them to ‘horrific’ abuse for his own warped sexual gratification has been jailed for 40 years.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 7:48 pm
Updated Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 8:19 pm

‘Despicable’ serial paedophile Mark Burgess, 68, was handed the term with a one-year extended licence after he was previously found guilty of 48 offences during an 11-week trial at Portsmouth Crown Court.

Burgess was told he will not be eligible for release on parole for another 21 years – making him 89 by the time he could be freed.

The once trusted Portsmouth music teacher and choirmaster ruthlessly exploited his position to take maximum advantage of 12 young boys and one girl between the early 1970s and 2000s.

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Paedophile choirmaster Mark Burgess in an image taken around 1984. This image was shown to the jury at his Portsmouth Crown Court trial. Picture: Hampshire police

The majority of Burgess’ victims were in court or on a live link to watch their abuser – once considered a ‘friend’ – being sent to prison. Many had read powerful statements on the devastating impact his ‘sexual perversions’ had had on their lives.

Judge William Ashworth handed down the sentence to a motionless Burgess after a hearing that concluded after 7pm – with the judge deliberating for two hours before delivering up his sentence.

He told the survivors: ‘I want to commend the victims in the case for their bravery in coming forward and putting themselves through the experience of being cross examined and giving evidence before a jury about the traumatic events.

‘You have done so in my view with dignity and restraint and with a stunning openness.’

Paedophile choirmaster Mark Burgess was jailed for 40 years.Paedophile choirmaster Mark Burgess was jailed for 40 years.

During his sentencing hearing, the court was told how the ‘calculated manipulator’ swore vulnerable children to silence after warning them ‘not to tell anyone’.

His wicked betrayal saw him exploit his position while working as a teacher at Portsmouth City Boys’ School and when running choirs at St John’s Church in Westbourne and All Saints Church in Commercial Road.

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Burgess, of St Chad’s Avenue, Hilsea, abused children as young as seven years old through to those in their teenage years.

Head of Music at St Luke's School, Mark Burgess at Portsmouth Cathedral in December 2008. Picture: Allan Hutchings (085031-149)

He engineered opportunities to abuse young children at school, in the vestry of churches during piano lessons, on choir trips across the country, in a rented garage, and in his car whilst purporting to provide lifts home.

The children had been lulled into a false sense of security after being made to feel special and safe by him.

His victims revealed the depths of torment they had suffered following his habitual abuse to fulfil his own warped gratification.

One said: ‘My experiences with Mark Burgess had a profound effect on my personal and emotional state which has continued to this day.

Former choirmaster Mark Burgess, 68, of St Chad's Avenue, Hilsea, is on trial at Portsmouth Crown Court accused of 52 child sex offences on 16 March 2021

‘Having to revisit these events was by far those most horrific thing I have had to do in the last 40 years.

‘I thought I had buried this to the back of my brain and would take this horrible situation to the grave when I died.’

The victim, who is taking medication for anxiety and has ‘suffered internally with guilt’, said the abuse had a ‘massive impact’ on their relationships with them ‘unable to open up’ to partners about what happened and ‘burying their hand in the sand’. It had also created difficulties with their children due to being over protective.

Another survivor said the abuse had stopped in the 1980s but the ‘scars would remain for a lifetime’ - with the painful memories brought up as Burgess denied the offences and ensured the victims had to give evidence and face their abuser once again.

‘I watch you sit in the dock so nonchalantly. Your one hope is you’re found not guilty and in doing so you were willing to drag us all to court to open up our minds to your abuse and relive it in detail. Despicable,’ they said.

The person went on to say they thought more people would be testifying with them feeling guilty about not coming forward years earlier to prevent more people being abused. ‘I know there were others Mark and so do you,’ they said. ‘What bothers me is all the others from the past four decades who didn’t come forward.

‘Only you know the true numbers of lives you destroyed to satisfy your sexual perversions.

‘If I had reported you back then so many lives could have been so different. So many lives have been added to the shame and guilt that I have.

‘So many lives could have been different to mine and not needed to suffer in silence. I wasn’t brave enough at the time to report you. My apologies to those who suffered afterwards.’

Others told Burgess they were ‘manipulated for his own sexual gratification’ but he always made sure to point out the acts were ‘mutually beneficial and consensual’.

One victim added: ‘But this was something that never could be because you were an adult having sex with children.

‘You took a bright, funny, naive and energetic kid and you destroyed all of that in the most cynical and vile way possible.

‘Because of your actions Mark I suffer terrible anxiety and panic attacks and always have a knot in the pit of my stomach and I grew up mistrusting adults which caused a lot of pain and psychological damage.

‘For many years your abuse left to resent my parents for being too strict and for teaching me to show respect to adults and never talk back.

‘I realise now you didn’t just exploit me you exploited them and all the trust they put in you.’

They went on to say how they tried to stop Burgess from abusing them in a car park but ‘you didn’t care...the only thing you cared about was your own sexual gratification at the expense of a child.’

Another victim said they were ‘groomed’ and told they were ‘special’ but always felt ‘uncomfortable’ around Burgess and even asked their parents for a piano to avoid having to go to lessons due to ‘off-hand comments’ and ‘touching’.

The victim said: ‘Personal information was used against me so I could never speak out. I was encouraged to have sexual relationships with my peers well beyond the bounds of my understanding.’

They admitted struggling with self-harm, thoughts of suicide and alcohol abuse and having night terrors.

The survivor added: ‘This person did teach me to use my voice to make beautiful music but I would be too ashamed to ever use it again to sing.’

One victim also described his abuser as a ‘festering, rancid boil’, while others took strength from others. ‘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,’ they said.

Following the sentencing, Det Insp 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.’

Andrea Hills, senior crown prosecutor of CPS Wessex, said after the sentencing: ‘Burgess demonstrated a repeated pattern of manipulative behaviour over a substantial period of time.

‘He manipulated the young victims to such an extent that they felt either the abuse was part and parcel of being in a choir, or that they owed him for all of the treats, favours and special treatment that he afforded them.

‘The CPS were able to build a strong case against Burgess using the brave testimonies of the victims to prove that he had been sexually abusing children for a very long time.

‘I would like to pay tribute to all of the victims who have come forward to support this complex and lengthy prosecution.

‘It is understandable that they will have endured decades of guilt and shame as a result of the horrific abuse that Burgess was responsible for committing, and I hope that today’s sentence will bring a measure of comfort to them.’

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.’

Burgess had denied 52 sex offences against 13 children between 1976 and 2009.

He was found guilty of 26 charges of indecent assault, 15 of gross indecency with a child, four of buggery, two of sexual activity with a child and one attempted indecent assault.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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