Thorpe St Andrew man jailed for sexually assaulting boys

A mother whose son was one of five teenage boys sexually assaulted by a Thorpe St Andrew man has spoken of the 'horrendous' ordeal the youngsters had been put through and of her relief that the case is now over.

Former shopkeeper Anthony Francis was jailed for three-and-a-half years when he appeared for sentence at Ipswich Crown Court yesterday.

Francis, 52, of Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew, had been found guilty by a jury before Christmas of eight offences of indecent assault and two of sexual activity with a child.

During the trial lasting several weeks, jurors heard that Francis, who owned a shop in Maidstone Road, Lowestoft, from 1990 to 1995 before moving across town to premises in Norwich Road, acted like a 'latter- day Pied Piper'.

The court was told how he lured the five boys, aged between 13 and 16, into his private accommodation at the premises or a basement office and then indecently touched them. The offences happened between 1992 and 2005.

The mother of one of the victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: 'It has been a horrendous two years for my son and my family, and also for the other young men and their families.'

The mother said that her son had bravely told police about the abuse and his courage had led to other victims coming forward. 'It took a great deal of courage for him to make a disclosure and statement to the police, who were very understanding and helpful,' the mother said.

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'It was a brave thing for him to do, but it soon became evident after his disclosure that there were others who had also put these awful incidents to the back of their minds and said nothing.

'It is a very difficult thing for young men to disclose,' she added. 'My advice to anyone who has been a victim of such crimes is to report it. It is not their fault; they are the victims.'

The mother also hit out at Francis's claims that the boys had colluded against him and made up the offences.

'It's beyond belief that these young men who have good jobs, some of whom are married with children, would make up such a story and cause such upset and devastation to their families.

'No one has received any financial gain, just satisfaction that the truth is out and that, after a four-week intensive trial, the jury were able to reach the right decision in that Francis was found guilty on all 10 counts,' she added.

'Justice has been done and it is hoped now that my son, my family and the other young men and their families can find some closure on these awful events.'

Jailing Francis, who has been in custody since his conviction, Judge David Goodin said the defendant was a hard-working family man whose reputation in the area in which he lived and worked had been high.

However, he said it was plain that his reputation and high standing 'masked another truth', which was the offending for which he was to be sentenced.

He described what Francis had done as 'serious' but said he did not consider him to be a danger to the public in the future.

In addition to jailing Francis, Judge Goodin ordered him to sign on the sex offenders' register indefinitely.

John Farmer, for Francis, said that since his client's conviction 131 customers of his shop had expressed their support of him.

'He is well regarded in the community and has worked hard and has brought up his family,' said Mr Farmer.

He said Francis and his family had been devastated by the jury's guilty verdicts.