Retired Croydon headteacher admits sexually abusing 14-year-old four decades ago

St Andrew’s Church of England High School. Pic: Google Street View

The retired headteacher of a Croydon school,  honoured with an MBE by the Queen in 2012 for services to young people, today admitted to sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy over 40 years ago.

John Coatman of Leyburn Gardens, 76, was found guilty of gross indecency in August 2016 when volunteering at a Christian youth group called The Crusaders in the 1970s.

However, soon after his conviction it emerged that there had been an error in the level of the charges against him by the Crown Prosecution Service and the judge adjourned sentencing as it became obvious the case would go to the Court of Appeal. The Court eventually quashed his conviction in April this year and ordered a re-trial.

At his retrial at the Old Bailey on Monday, Coatman pleaded guilty to an amended charge of indecent assault. 

Coatman was headteacher at St Andrew’s Church of England High School in Waddon. During his trial, he told the jury he worked with over 22,000 young people during a 50-year association with the Christian group for boys but “had never had any sort of complaint”. The jury rejected Coatman’s explanations and found him guilty of two counts of gross indecency but not guilty of buggery.

Claims against Coatman emerged in 2014 after the victim was suffering from problems at work and his marriage broke down.

At his trial, he denied the claims that “rough and tumble” had turned sexual, saying the only physical activity the young people engaged in was the children’s game British Bulldog.

Coatman told jurors he was “shocked” and “deeply shaken” after his arrest, saying the theme of sex cropped up in youth group meetings only in reference to religion.

He said the group focused on passages in the Bible that were linked to “Christian aspects of sexual behaviour”.

After spending 42 years in education, Coatman retired in 1998 and was awarded an MBE for his services to young people.

After the Court of Appeal hearing, the CPS apologised to Coatman over the errors and issued new advice to its staff over the appropriate charges in such circumstances to reflect changes in the law. A number of other cases before courts were also reviewed.

Coatman was released on bail following Monday’s hearing. He will be sentenced in January.

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