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'Sly and cunning' Preston children's home abuser is caged by senior judge

The Harris Orphanage and Christopher Hartley
The Harris Orphanage and Christopher Hartley

A former Army sergeant who raped and abused vulnerable youngsters in a children’s home has been caged for 13 years.

Christopher Hartley attacked his victims at the former Harris Children's Home on Garstang Road.

He was watched by some of his victims from the public gallery at Preston Crown Court, as the Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, told him: "You saw them as easy prey and you took advantage of your position as the son of the house parents to sexually abuse them."

For more than 40 years, his victims hid their devastating secret as Hartley, 56, now of Denham Avenue, Warrington, maintained a facade of being a respectable family man – the son of a couple who had devoted their lives to caring for children, and a soldier who had served his country.

Prosecuting, Barbara Webster said: "The defendant was described by the complainants as a sly and cunning individual. He would manipulate situations whereby he could be alone with them and sexually abuse them.

"He would use any chink in their armour to his advantage. He knew the reasons why each were at the children's home and manipulated them for his own gratification."

Married grandad Hartley, who worked as a home improvement worker and children's football coach after leaving the Army in the 1990s, avoided justice for decades as the women feared they would not be believed.

One reported the abuse allegations to a social worker but did not want to take it further, until a second woman then came forward to West Yorkshire police in 2016, leading to the charges

In November jurors found Hartley unanimously guilty of 23 sexual offences – including a rape, an attempted rape, and several sexual assaults and charges of gross indecency.

They related to four women who used to live in the Lancashire County Council led home on Garstang Road, and a woman who worked in the care sector.

One girl was 11 when she was first abused and it went on until she was 13.

The court heard it started when she was alone in a ground floor bathroom when he stared at her while she was in the bath.

Hartley would take her to his bedroom and isolate her from other children and made her take off her clothes before abusing her.

A second victim was eight when she was placed there. She would go to bed in her nightie. He exposed himself to her and perform acts in front of her. When she screamed, he shouted to his mum that he had caught her out of her room to get her in trouble.

Another girl described how the defendant would take her to a ground floor room, sit her on the bed, undress himself and make her touch him.

The next complainant said he forced himself on her after jumping out of a bush in the grounds of the home. He later raped her as the abuse continued.

Another victim, who described Hartley as "very arrogant", was attacked in a children's bathroom.

In a victim impact statement one woman said she suffered panic attacks and anxiety and has to take medication.

Another woman has made attempts on her own life, including deliberately crashing her car.

Her GP wrote a letter to the court which said: "I'm left with little doubt the childhood abuse has had a devastating impact on her mental health, preventing her from finding any fulfillment or peace."

Three traumatised victims did not want to put pen to paper and relive what had happened.

Hartley, who attended St Cuthbert Mayne High School in Preston before studying at the Army Apprentice College Harrogate, showed no emotion as Judge Brown said: "You were bullying and manipulative towards them and were prepared to get some of them into trouble so you could be alone with them.

"You were young as well, but there is no doubt in my mind you were mature for your age,

"It is relevant that you achieved 10 O-levels and that at only 16 you were allowed to join the army, demonstrating a significant level of intelligence and maturity."

An NSPCC spokesman said: “The victims in this case have shown immense courage in coming forward and giving evidence about the abuse they were subjected to as children.

“This case shows that no matter how much time has passed, victims of abuse can come forward with the confidence they will be listened to.

“Child sexual abuse can have devastating and long-lasting effects and it is important that the victims in this case receive all the support they need to move forward.”

Anyone concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC Helpline, in confidence, on 0808 8005000. Children seeking advice and support can call Childline on 0800 1111 or viawww.childline.org.uk