A former student abused by his paedophile teacher has spoken out for the first time about the horrific grooming before the coward took his own life while waiting to stand trial.
The man, who has waived his right to anonymity but cannot be named or pictured until the screening of a new documentary, is one of 40 survivors who have spoken out about their abuse at the hands of teacher John Owen.
John Owen killed himself while waiting to stand trial for offences carried out at Ysgol Rhydfelen in South Wales.
Speaking out about his harrowing experiences, the brave victim said: “He would call me over to his office to discuss a script or a speech I was working on.”
The man added to S4C’s Keeping a Secret: “He would lock the door and pull the zip of my trousers down. My heart would sink because I knew what was coming next.
“John Owen started grooming me at a very young age when I first started at Ysgol Rhydfelen. I didn’t know that the trap I was in was going to turn so sinister. I enjoyed performing, singing reciting and competing – I remember thinking – right, I must get him to notice me. He was an incredibly charismatic man and you wanted him to praise you.”
Owen was feted for many years as a talented teacher at Ysgol Rhydfelen in Pontypridd. He’d been a pupil and prefect at the school himself but returned after his teacher training in 1973 and managed to quickly rise through the ranks. Trained as an RE teacher, he soon moved to drama, where he showed an aptitude for nurturing talented children.
But there was a darker undercurrent to his character, as some of his students would eventually find out for themselves.
He ruled with fear and love, created an exclusive clique and built up such a powerful reputation around himself that some parents mistakenly thought he was the head teacher.
In school he often wore a black gown, metal-tipped shoes and while his words of praise could bewitch parents and students, his outbursts of anger, bullying and excommunication from the clique were devastating.
Children and adults alike were keen not to cross him and desperate to please him. He was “a man to be feared and revered”, both “charming and strict”.
Ysgol Rhydfelen, a Welsh-speaking school, had a very good reputation and it succeeded in getting children from non-Welsh homes to feel passionate about the language.
The school produced high quality shows and nearby schools would regularly travel to see Rhydfelen shows.
“We worked hard in those shows,” recalled the man who’s found the courage to speak freely about his school years.
“John Owen always insisted upon loyalty from you. If you weren’t 100 per cent with him – you were against him and you were the enemy. That was one of the ways he manipulated us. He could help me with what I wanted in my life and I had to make that bargain with the devil.
“And when all the sexual abuse started, I’d just switch off, and try and take myself to another place.”
To his victims who found courage to speak out at the time, he was a bully and a sexual abuser who at times would be their friend.
But as the stories of abuse emerged, it was with the benefit of hindsight that the clues were seemingly always there.
Owen would trick some of his students into acting out sexually-explicit material in lessons and even in examinations for GCSE and A-levels.
When a catering assistant saw him with a half-naked boy on his lap, Owen managed to explain it away.
And in 1986 an external examiner for the WJEC – the Welsh examinations board – stopped a performance in which a naked pupil simulated a sex act. But she was told to go back and carry on by her managers at the examination board, for fear that the pupil’s results might suffer if she did not.
Five years later in 1991, one mother was so horrified by the limited knowledge she had of her daughter’s abuse at Owen’s hands that she wrote to complain. This prompted an investigation by the education authority.
Six pupils wrote statements – all complained of the excessive emphasis on sex during lessons. One revealed that they had been told to feel each others bodies in the most intimate way during performances, and some said they had to simulate sexual acts.
A group of senior teachers also wrote to the education authority, saying Owen was unfit to teach because of his obsession with sex.
Although a district education officer for the former Mid Glamorgan education authority was sent in to carry out an investigation, no referral to police and social services was ever made. Owen was allowed to resign.
In 2001, four of his pupil victims, by now grown up, went to the police to say what really happened to them and Owen was charged with five serious sex offences. But he never arrived at the trial. He was on the run, having failed to appear in court, and killed himself in a caravan in October 2001.
The then children’s commissioner, Peter Clarke, announced his investigation a month later. It wasn’t until summer 2004 that the long-awaited report of the Clywch inquiry was published. The findings described the pattern of behaviour of a man who used his position as a teacher to abuse children sexually, emotionally and physically.
The allegations against him were that of rape on both boys and girls, indecent assault and assault. During the inquiry, one girl finally admitted her secret and alleged that Owen had raped her after she stood up to him.
Even Owen’s lover at the time gave her account of life with the man she thought she knew.
Despite the fact that now, many years later, he could hate John Owen for what he did to him, his brave victim has admitted that there was a likeable side to the man who abused him.
“He was a man who gave me a lot of of advice, there was a very caring and kind side to him and he could get some great work out of me,” he said.
“Emotionally, I am still angry with him. I blame him for injuring me but I can also make excuses for him and to see him as a victim.”
The cowardly way Owen killed himself means his victims never really got justice or closure for those terrible deeds. Supporters of Owen maintained he was a “sweet giant”, a talent and someone who cared for children.
Even so, the Clywch inquiry found that no-one who heard the evidence would doubt that Owen was guilty of acts of gross sexual indecency against some pupils at Ysgol Rhydfelen. It notes also that the evidence had showed that Mr Owen, in all probability, had abused pupils under his care over a number of years.
Two decades may have passed but the scars are still very much alive in the minds of the victims.
“The night we heard that John Owen had killed himself, we all went for a drink,” the solitary victim told S4C. “At last, the whole thing was over.”
Keeping a Secret’s producer Dylan Richards said he’d contacted almost 40 people asking them to take part in the documentary, but very few were willing to speak.
Mr Richards said: “It’s very difficult for people to come forward to talk about something like this, especially on camera. I knew the gang of boys and met them every so often, and we began talking, that’s how things started and one of the victims agreed to speak out and tell their story on camera.
“When designing the programme, it was very important that this was the victim’s story – and that his testimony was central to the programme.”