- SPECIAL REPORT – Part 1: Southend ‘sex ring’ victim says ‘heads should roll’ after paedophile ‘informant’ was set free to molest more children - 23/12/2019
- SPECIAL REPORT – Part 2: ‘Shoebury Sex Ring’ victim breaks 30-year silence to detail horrific web of abuse - 23/12/2019
- Thurrock worst in Essex for air quality - 12/12/2019
IT WAS early 1989 and Chris Hickey was sitting in his office at the Rainer Project, a charity that worked with young offenders in Southend. Opposite him was a teenager from Shoebury. They’d been working together for over a year but nothing had worked. The boy just seemed addicted to reckless offending. It was as if he wanted to keep getting caught.
“He would just serially steal cars,” Hickey recalled. “Six, eight, ten a night. Drive around. Crash them. Burn them.”
It was late afternoon and today the mood between them was different.
“He was getting quieter and quieter,” said Hickey. “The silences were getting longer. I knew there was something he wanted to say. The room was going dark. I wouldn’t even get up to turn the light on. I knew if I moved, the spell would be broken. I watched him burn himself with a cigarette. And then he told me.”
In Shoebury, at almost exactly the same time, a youth worker was about to uncover the same horrifying secret. He was running the regular evening youth club at the Children’s Society Family Centre when a man walked in, clutching a pile of keyboards. He said they belonged to one of the regular boys and that he’d arranged to leave them here for him.
“What’s Dodgy Dave doing here?” a boy asked the worker as the man left.
“What do you mean, Dodgy Dave?”
“He’s a kiddie-fiddler,” the boy said. “He pays you.”
The youth worker was a regular at the Sarah Moore pub where, most nights, officers from Leigh CID would pop in for a pint. He knew some of them quite well and told the story to a senior officer.
“Who do I tell?” he asked. The officer said to leave it with him.
By April 1989, two boys had made criminal complaints. In May, two men were arrested in synchronised raids on their homes. They were Dennis King (AKA, Dodgy Dave), 54, of Cunningham Close, Shoebury, and Brian Tanner, 56, of Beedell Avenue, Westcliff.
By June 1989, Essex Social Services had a list of 14 boys known to have been involved with the men. The youngest was 10 years old.
Essex Council ordered regular meetings between local children’s charities and staff from Shoeburyness High School, which many of the victims attended. The Children’s Society was asked to provide therapy to the children and write a report on the impact of the abuse, with input from two more charities helping the boys – Rainer and the NSPCC.
The charities began pooling intelligence given to them by the children, including the names of other boys linked to the ring. In January 1990, they handed police a list of 28 more boys. The list continued to grow, eventually totalling more than 60 children.
But the boys didn’t just tell the charity workers about other potential victims. They gave names and addresses of other men they’d been taken to. They identified nightclubs, public toilets, houses and hotels in Southend used for paedophile activity.
The ring’s tentacles spread even further. A Southend home where a child said they were taken was later linked to a Thurrock paedophile ring. Boys reported being taken to Basildon and Tower Hamlets.
In Stratford and Harold Hill, they were reportedly photographed as they were abused. The boy who’d burned himself in Chris Hickey’s office was driven around London by police, to try to identify addresses.
King and Tanner were charged with offences including conspiracy and buggery, which carried a maximum of life in prison. Seven boys were lined up to testify against them. In court, they faced ’specimen’ charges relating to a handful of boys, but prosecutors said they were the ’leaders’ of a ’massive’ sex ring with ’dozens’ of victims.
But in April 1990, prosecutors accepted a plea bargain, knocking the charges down to attempted buggery and gross indecency. The conspiracy charge was allowed to lie on file. Defence barristers argued that all of the boys had instigated their own abuse and needed no coercion. Judge Peter Beaumont accepted their argument and ruled the psychological damage had been ’limited’. King got four years. Tanner got three.
The three charities’ report, handed to Social Services weeks later, begged to differ. The men had targeted the poorest, most vulnerable children, it said, offering ’inducements’ including money, shelter and ’forbidden fruits’ like free drugs and access to porn films.
The psychological damage had been catastrophic. The majority of the boys – some as young as 11 – now regularly used drugs. A 15-year-old was referred to an alcohol addiction service.
The boy from Hickey’s office was described as ’deeply disturbed and frightened’. Others showed similar ’explosions’ of seemingly pointless criminal activity with ’very little material gain’ and no identifiable motivation.
The report said: “At some level, it appears that the repeated contact with the police, the arrests, the spells down at the police station, act as a reinforcement of how bad they feel inside.”
All of the victims suffered depression and struggled to form relationships. Most became violent. Two attempted suicide. Others self-harmed. Some started showing ’abusive’ behaviour towards younger children. A number became child prostitutes. One 11-year-old was found taking an eight-year-old peer out with him to look for trade.
A YA investigation has discovered what became of a number of boys on the list. One died before King and Tanner were arrested, from a solvent overdose. Two died as young men from heroin overdoses. One shot himself in the head because ’the balance of his mind was disturbed’. Another is currently detained under section in a high security mental hospital. The boy from Hickey’s office was last known to be using heroin and living in a tent. Several others became prolific criminals. One is now himself a convicted paedophile.
Tanner is now dead. King moved to Cambridgeshire, where he continued to offend frequently and was last convicted in 2015, for breaching a Sexual Offences Prevention order.
None of the other men identified by the boys were prosecuted.