Survivors of paedophile choirmaster Mark Burgess tell of 'Fagin's den' driven by perverted desire 'at any human cost'

Survivors of a ‘calculating, callous and predatory’ paedophile have revealed how they lived with the abuse for more than 30 years.

By Ben Fishwick
Monday, 7th June 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Monday, 7th June 2021, 6:49 am

Two men who spoke to The News after former choirmaster and music teacher Mark Burgess was convicted of ‘horrendous’ abuse, praised the ‘bravery’ of the 11 others who came forward in a lengthy trial.

The two separately reveal how Burgess ran a ‘Fagin’s den’ of abuse, manipulating boys so he could take advantage and was driven by his own perverted desire ‘at any human cost’.

Disgraced Burgess, 68, of St Chad’s Avenue, Hilsea, targeted 12 boys and one girl between 1975 and 2009 and is now facing a ‘lengthy’ jail term.

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

The ‘fresh hell’ of an 11-week trial at Portsmouth Crown Court and extensive police investigation took their toll.

Burgess’ denial of his perverted actions left all those involved needing to give evidence about what happened to them in detail.

One man who spoke to The News, said he felt ‘utter relief’ when jurors returned 48 guilty verdicts but added: ‘This guy has put us through a fresh hell by deciding to lie about this and attempting to manipulate the jury that he’s innocent of these appalling abuses.

‘At my bleakest moment I felt that closure was something that really happened after you’re dead, long after you live with the burden of that abuse.

Former choirmaster Mark Burgess, 68, of St Chad's Avenue, Hilsea

‘When he was found guilty of all those charges it felt like all of it was stripped away.

‘I do feel there was a sense of closure of these terrible things in the past - I feel more ready to move on.’

‘Slew of incidents’

Burgess was a former Portsmouth City Boys School music teacher and choirmaster at St John the Baptist Church in Westbourne, and at All Saints Church in Commercial Road, Portsmouth.

Former choirmaster Mark Burgess, 68, of St Chad's Avenue, Hilsea

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The man, abused from the age of 13, added: ‘The thing about being believed is really a big one because you’ve suffered this. I don’t know why anyone would go through the process of lying about such a terrible thing.

‘I wanted to be believed and listened to, and that’s ultimately what happened.’

The man said after giving his evidence he was able to listen into the case.

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

‘I didn’t want to hear the terrible things people have suffered but I do feel proud of them for standing up,’ he said.

‘I never came forward (at first). I tried in my teenage years to talk to friends, girlfriends, and was always supported and I never had the courage to do it.

‘I made a sort of coward’s vow that if the police ever got in touch with me... that I would tell them what I know as a way to support the people.’

That’s exactly what happened. He received a message from detectives at Hampshire police asking to talk.

At first he thought it wasn’t genuine, and contacted officers to check. It was. Weeks later he received a phone call on his way to work from DC Nicky Howard.

‘She asked me a few questions about the choir,’ he said. She asked ‘is there anything you want to tell us?’

In the next few moments he was telling DC Howard of a ‘slew of incidents’ of abuse he survived and was asked to come in and give recorded evidence.

His testimony formed a pattern of interwoven stories presented to the jury over 11 weeks, alongside those from 12 others who suffered abuse.

Past conversations with friends over the years helped corroborate his story, and secured a conviction on all six charges relating to him.

‘You become incredibly grateful for that and something as simple as that (conversation with a friend) corroborates what you’ve been saying, he said.

‘That’s one of the best things that’s come out of it - people coming in - and you get the truth, made up of multiple layers.’

The horror of Burgess’ actions is marked by how he was ‘flagrant in his abuse’ - carrying this out in car parks, public and where people may see, the man said.

Just as he acted with impunity for more than 30 years, he thought he could ‘pull a fast one’ on the jury as well, he added.

Burgess would target specific boys and was known to have a ‘short fuse’ - throwing hymn books at children.

His behaviour was all part of his ‘incredibly predatory’ character, isolating those he wanted to prey on - grooming those by ‘lifting the veil’ of adult life and treating them like an equal. But he then used that to perpetrate abuse.

The man told The News: ‘We survived this trauma but he’s certainly (messed) up his own life purely driven by his sexual gratification and fulfilment - that need or want, that desire at any human cost.

‘He needed to lie throughout the process and subjected us to another form of abuse.’

‘He’ll die before he finishes his sentence’

He added: ‘He’ll die before he finishes his sentence. He’s too old now to serve anywhere near the sentence he will get.’

The man said he considers himself a ‘survivor not a victim’ and added: ‘Victimhood is not something I ever wear as a characteristic in my life.’

He said he feels in a ‘much more secure place’ in his life despite having relived the abuse during the investigation and trial process.

He added he was ‘really grateful’ to the first men who came forward to tell police of abuse, and praised police for their investigation.

The survivors praised Hampshire officers Nicky Howard and Neil Cutting for their work.

‘Fagin’s den of abuse’

The second man who spoke to The News said he kept what happened secret, never telling anyone or even thinking about it - but came forward to aid the prosecution.

At just 14 he was targeted by Burgess repeatedly. Now in his 40s, he is suffering nightmares and flashbacks having relived the abuse.

Opening up about the abuse for the first time was a ‘shock,’ he said.

‘I completely pushed him out of my mind, I’d seen him a few times - I just didn’t think about it,’ he said.

‘It’s like living in a parallel universe. I put it to the back of my mind, I never thought about it,’

‘When (the police) started to talk to me about it, that’s when it started to come back.

He added: ‘Looking back on it I keep asking myself - and the trauma counsellor - why did I let it happen?

‘I let it happen, I could’ve run away, I could’ve told somebody but also we’ve got flight and fright. My brain just froze - and let it happen just to get it over with.’

He said he ‘got off lightly’ compared to other people targeted by Burgess.

Burgess operated ‘a bit like a Fagin’s den,’ he said, and would ‘pick out the ones who he thought would keep quiet or let him have his kicks’.

Burgess was someone who would ‘use his power over you’ and ‘always kind of expected something from you’.

‘Guilty, guilty, guilty’

But seeing the verdicts come back proved who was now being heard.

The man said: ‘When the first one came in not guilty I had that kind of evil thought, where I suddenly thought he’s going to get lulled into a false sense of security.

‘When it came “guilty, guilty, guilty” it was great, especially because of how arrogant he had been throughout the trial, denying the whole thing and trying to implicate people who were dead... and throw crap at people’s characters.

‘I felt relief, a lot of relief, and satisfaction. A lot of that came from just how much his behaviour had annoyed me over the trial.

‘I’m sure with the others it may have been a relief that he’s now finally guilty - his just desserts at it were.’

‘I was reluctant’

The man received a knock at the door from police, asking about the choirs and Burgess.

It was to be the first time he had ever spoken about the abuse he endured.

‘I was very reluctant to say anything,’ he said. He spoke with police but was not convinced about coming forward. He left it for two to three weeks before calling.

‘I didn’t want anything to do with it really, and they left it,’ he said. ‘Two to three weeks later I gave Nicky a call and she came round to have another chat, and I said: “Right, I’ll talk but I want to do it now, this morning”.’

He added: ‘I thought if some of those other 11 have had the guts to come forward, my name has been mentioned, so they all already know about me - I may as well bite the bullet.

‘Knowing that he’s going to be sitting in a little room for the rest of his life - denying it to himself - I did the right thing.’

Burgess will be sentenced on June 30.

The man said part of him feels ‘sorry’ for him ‘because he could’ve not done it’.

‘Part of me is just complete hatred, absolute contempt because he’s a very, very calculating, callous, nasty man,’ he said.

‘I want to know that he will be spending the rest of his life in prison because he used to talk about - because Portsmouth had quite a few paedophiles - he used to talk about those people with utter contempt.

‘It would be nice for him to sit in his cell being the person he hated or who he used to talk about with real venom.’

‘Bishop hits out at ‘abhorrent behaviour’ of paedophile

A BISHOP has said there were ‘no specific concerns’ about Mark Burgess at the time but is ‘appalled’ by the abuse he perpetrated.

The Commissary Bishop for Portsmouth diocese, the Rt Rev Rob Wickham, said: ‘We were appalled to hear about the abuse committed by Mark Burgess when he was an organist at All Saints Church in Portsmouth until 1992.

‘This abhorrent behaviour was an abuse of the trust that choristers and their families placed in him.

‘We are not aware of specific concerns raised about his behaviour at the time, and we understand that he resigned from this post voluntarily in 1992.

‘The Diocese of Portsmouth and the Church of England as a whole are committed to ensuring that there is a safe environment for children whenever they are engaged in church activities. Over the past 30 years the Church of England has developed and updated coherent and robust safeguarding policies and procedures, which each parish across the diocese is now required to implement.

‘Please be assured of my prayers for all who have been affected by the actions of Mark Burgess, especially those children who were abused.

‘We all continue to learn to become safer, and be shaped by the bravery of those who have come forward.

‘If any survivor of this abuse would like to meet with me, I would be very happy to do so.’

Get support

:: Portsmouth Abuse and Rape Counselling Service (Parcs) provides information and emotional support for anyone aged 18 or over.

The women’s helpline is (023) 9266 9511 and the men’s helpline is (023) 9266 9516.

Lines are open Monday 1pm until 3pm, Wednesday and Friday 7pm until 10pm. There is an answer machine outside of these hours.