From across the boys’ changing room, I can hear his voice bellow, “have you had your shower?” and if you dared to try to evade washing you were gently reminded why you needed one and led back to the cubicle. As you discretely washed yourself, he walked up behind you and, taking your cloth away, he proceeded to help you wash every crevice in your body.
From age 7 through 11, I attended The Boys’ Brigade – 3rd Lytham St Annes Company – held every Tuesday evening at the Church Road Methodist Church in Lancashire. Each session would commence with paying your 50p subs, a check on your uniform, whether your shoes were shiny enough and a reprimand if you’d missed the previous Sunday’s church service.
The Boys’ Brigade Leader, Mr Bissett, was stern and with a gruff rough Scottish accent. He would give all the boys a telling off when necessary and make sure we were all dressed in full Brigade Gear. He was also very welcoming to our parents, chatty and pleasant. There was no need for mums and dads to be concerned.
William Bissett, being an experienced and respected member of the community was entrusted with the safety and care of all the members of the Boys’ Brigade. Inclusive of this trust was summer weekend trips away from home and monthly football meetups. Unfortunately, both these presented perfect scenarios for Mr Bissett to abuse his position of trust and power.
Mr Bissett’s antics was far from a secret within the Boys’ Brigade among the boys who attended on a regular basis. If you participated in any of these activities you definitely knew of his wandering hand tendencies. As boys, we would joke about him being a pervert. Fortunately for myself and many others that was where any abuse started and ended. Unfortunately, as it has now come to light, others were not so fortunate.
William Bissett has been sentenced to 6 and a half years in prison for 17 counts of indecent assault on boys under the age of 14. The 84 year old former Boys’ Brigade Leader was found guilty in Preston Crown Court last month for sexually abusing five victims over an 11 year period.
Powerful victim impact statements were read out in court:
“it was something I tried hard to forget about but it was buried deep in my brain. We were in his care and he abused that trust. He had no care for our mental wellbeing when he did what he did. We were innocent young boys. The fact he still protests his innocence and makes out we are liars adds insult to injury.
Another victim said:
“I’ve always tried to say I was not a victim but that is what I am. He trapped me in a position where I was scared and embarrassed to tell anyone what he was doing to me. This hold over me meant that any time I saw him I would feel like a scared 12-year-old boy and frightened and embarrassed to retaliate in any way. I feel I have an anger penned up that I didn’t know I had. I feel I need to go into the middle of nowhere and scream.”
The third victim said he suffers from anxiety and depression and finds it hard to go out and form relationships.
When the crime happened I was a child. I used to have nightmares about it and wake up sweating and thinking it was happening all the time. When the crime happened I was a child. I used to have nightmares about it and wake up sweating and thinking it was happening all the time. “Over the years I felt it must have been my fault and I felt very guilty and ashamed. I feel a sense of relief and peace of mind at last.
The fourth victim said the offences had also left him with a ‘poor view on authority’.
I have had anxiety all of my life and he has contributed to this. I’ve moved on but it took until age 40 to come to terms with this.
The fifth victim chose to read his statement in person to the court and thanked the police and Crown Prosecution Service for their ‘professionalism and sensitivity’.
As a young boy I joined the Boys Brigade with innocence and a sense of excitement. [Bissett] took full advantage of my vulnerability and had a significant effect on my formative mind.
As a respected member of the community, Bissett was given glowing testimony by his peers and those who he knew personally and professionally.
Judge Robert Altham said Bissett had ‘not shown a shred of remorse’ and praised the ‘contrasting courage of the five complainants’.
Sentencing, he said: “You cynically used your position of trust in relation to those boys to bring about your abuse.
“You groomed some of them by setting up circumstances in which you could be alone with them and you hid your abuse behind your position within the community.
“They have all have been affected in differing and varied ways.
“None of [the character reference writers] appear to have altered their view of you as a result, not only of the verdicts of the jury, but also the false testimony you gave during the course of the trial.
“The references can assist when they speak of your goods works and deeds of which there are many.
“Of course what you did within the Boys Brigade has to be coloured by your ulterior motive to have access to young boys to abuse.
“What is clear is you were capable of good within the community when not motivated by any ulterior or bad motive.
“You haven’t shown a shred of remorse for what you have done to these five people.
“In fact I contrast the courage of the five complainants who came to court at some personal considerable cost with the cowardice of a man who can’t face up to what he has done.
“Those five complainants showed tremendous dignity in the face of a man being accused of lying by you who then went onto tell a pack of lies during his evidence.
“The role of each of the victims in this case has been crucial.”