A former canon, now living in Norfolk, has been jailed for four years after sexually abusing three teenage boys.

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Ronald Johns, 75, was demoted to a village parish nearly 20 years ago by his bishop instead of police being informed of allegations made by his first victim.

The victim made an official complaint to the church in 1993 when, by then, Johns was a canon at Carlisle Cathedral.

Johns made admissions to the late Rt Rev Ian Harland who felt the appropriate sanction was to move him to a church in Caldbeck.

The matter only came to the attention of police this year when another victim complained he had also been abused by Johns, Carlisle Crown Court heard.

Police checked records at the cathedral which detailed the 1993 complaint dealt with by the Rt Rev Harland, who died three years ago.

Johns, of Kings Road, Coltishall, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to sexual offences committed against three boys – aged between 14 and 17 at the time – between 1983 and 1991.

Sentencing him, Mr Justice Singh said: “As you accept, you have ruined your life and brought disgrace upon yourself.”

He said his pre-sentence report had summarised his behaviour as “manipulative” and “predatory”.

Tim Brennand, prosecuting, said: “In 1993 the complainant met the then Bishop of Carlisle and he described the meeting as bizarre.

“He intimated to the police that the church’s stance was very defensive in relation to the defendant’s position. No formal action was taken in so much as a report to the police.”

It is understood that Johns was transferred to the new post at Caldbeck following guidance from a forensic psychiatrist that suggested he would not offend again.

In 2000, the complainant set up a meeting with Johns himself with a view to forgiving him and moving on with his life.

Mr Brennand said: “But he was disappointed in the reaction of the defendant who seemed to be concerned about how the allegations had affected his pension, causing him financial difficulties.”

John Morgans, defending, said his client had gained no advantage by the police not being informed at the time.

“This was investigated by the church and they did take action,” he said. “It was not for him to make the choice to go to the police. That was complaint-led.

“It was a demotion in the church, moving away from where he was living.

“Ultimately a ‘shaking of the hands’ with an agreement that matters had been aired, that apologies were issued and then he was dealt with by the church.”

He said the church’s decision at the time had effectively worked as there had been no repetition since of his sexual indiscretions.

Johns received a three-year jail term for two counts of indecent assault and four counts of gross indecency in relation to one victim. He received additional sentences of six months each for acts of gross indecency on the two other teenagers.

Johns used classic techniques of grooming as he gained his victims’ trust and confidence before he plied them with alcohol, the court was told.

Sexual activity would often take place while he would watch pornographic videos with them.

On one occasion, with his third victim, he took a church service at Carlisle Cathedral and then removed his collar robes to visit a shop and rent two such videos.

He would tell the boys that they must keep his abuse a secret and that no-one would believe them anyway if they spoke of it, the court heard.

In victim impact statements, the 1993 complainant said he had undergone lengthy counselling after a failed marriage. He suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts.

Another victim was prone to anxiety and agoraphobia while the third victim experiences flashbacks and night terrors.

The court heard from the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, Richard Pratt, that the congregations affected had expressed their “shock, horror and betrayal” at the situation.

In mitigation, Mr Morgans said: “He demonstrates total remorse, not because he is here in this crown court but based on genuine insight into his actions. All he asks me to do is to apologise.

“He is sorry. He is sorry because he has betrayed the church he loves. He has betrayed his family, himself, the complainants’ families and the complainants.

“The chances of any future offending are nothing but low.”

A number of references were handed to the judge.

Mr Morgans continued: “The fact is that he has done many good things in his life. He has helped many people.

“He has lost his reputation and his good name and character. That is already a real punishment from him. He will be remembered for this case and not the good he has undoubtedly done.”.

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