MBE pensioner abused children - court told

A Norfolk pensioner awarded the MBE for his work with children subjected young boys to systematic sexual abuse over more than 20 years then told them not report him because he had 'friends in high places', jurors heard yesterday.

A Norfolk pensioner who was made an MBE for his work with children subjected young boys to systematic sexual abuse over more than 20 years then told them not report him because he had 'friends in high places', jurors heard yesterday.

Norwich Crown Court was told how Henry Day, known as Harry, set up the Young Citizens Guild in 1957 with the aim of helping young people become responsible members of society. He was courted by royalty, community leaders and police chiefs who recognised his positive contribution.

But behind a veneer of respectability he 'groomed' a series of boys aged as young as 12 at the guild's camp in Hemsby near Yarmouth and carried out frequent sex attacks, prosecutor Andrew Shaw said.

He added: 'They were gravely sexually abused by a man who the rest of the world saw as a hero.'

One alleged victim told police that 'what should have been long happy childhood summers ended up feel like I was in prison'.

Guild members openly acknowledged that the 70-year-old, of Wood View, North Walsham, had 'favourites' and 'blue eyed boys' who would be invited to stay in his caravan rather than shared dormitories. Some even said they had been jealous of this special treatment.

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Mr Shaw said: 'The guild was a splendid and worthy organisation. Members worked with the emergency services, searched for lost children, provided first aid and life saving treatment and cleared the beach of hazards.

'For many people Mr Day was and remains a valued member of the community. For the overwhelming majority of members whose lives he touched, Mr Day's munificence was something for which they will always be grateful.

'Sadly, there is a small minority of men - boys at the time - whose experiences at the time were anything but positive. They were subjected to his systematic sexual abuse as children.'

Eight guild members, now adults, reported the abuse to police in 2008. Some had joined the guild after the death of a parent and were inherently 'vulnerable'.

The guild was formed in Dagenham, where most of the victims had lived, but members would spend weekends and holidays at the Norfolk camp.

Mr Shaw described how the guild had a rank structure and those who Day allegedly abused were quickly promoted to officer status. They would receive epaulettes and other decorations to wear on their uniforms. Many won trophies including the Harry Day Cup.

Those that were invited to share his caravan would be rewarded with alcohol, cigarettes and tuck-shop money. Much of the abuse is alleged to have happened in the caravan or while travelling on the front seat of a mini-bus as other children slept in the back.

Day is said to have used 'real of purported medical conditions' as an excuse to initiate contact. Some claim to have woken to find him abusing them while others were lured into his bed.

There were strict rules which prevented boys and girls becoming close and Day would 'come down hard' on anybody who disobeyed.

He is said to have groped some boys during 'rough play' and to have forced others to perform sex acts on one another.

Some victims recalled how he told them that if they contacted police their stories would not be believed. 'He had links to the Prince of Wales and had met the Queen,' Mr Shaw said.

'He was well connected with people in high authority, for example he was familiar with most senior officers of Norfolk constabulary.'

Referring to the varied reactions of witnesses involved in the case, Mr Shaw added: 'Imagine how you might react if someone you had looked up to for a number of years was found to be concealing a secret of the worst possible kind.'

Day shook his head repeatedly as the case was opened. He told police that the allegations were 'made up' and denied abusing anyone, said Mr Shaw.

He denies 22 offences including indecent assault, indecent assault against under-16s, incitement to indecent assault and carrying out a sexual act. There are eight alleged victims and the charges date over a period from 1973 to 1995.

He also denies perverting the course of justice after allegedly contacting a witness in the case in an attempt to persuade them to support his story.

The case continues.