SEVEN victims have described a lifetime of pain and suffering they have endured after they were targeted by a paedophile teacher who abused them at their most vulnerable time as children more than 40 years ago.
The former students of Ben Venue Public School recounted their experiences from the 1960s and ’70s in Armidale District Court on Friday.
They told of the profound impact of the abuse they suffered at the hands of former teacher John G Ferris: a childhood robbed from them, a lifetime of blaming themselves and decades living with a nightmare that was a secret.
“What he did to me was disgusting and it was wrong on every level; it was illegal and immoral,” an emotional victim, now aged 49, told the court.
“I blamed myself, believing I had done the wrong thing all these years.”
Ferris is awaiting sentence for 16 offences of kidnapping for advantage, lewdness and indecent assault, with Judge Stephen Hanley to take into account another nine charges.
As tears streamed down their faces, the court heard the ordeals each of Ferris’s victims had lived with since they were abused on school grounds in Armidale.
“He deliberately manipulated me ... in a place where I had the right to feel safe – my school,” another victim told the court, recounting how she was targeted at the age of 11.
“This abuse robbed me of the adult I could have been.”
The court heard Ferris targeted the young girls when they were in the gymnastics class or even called their names out over the school intercom loudspeaker, ordering the children to present to the office.
They were called under the pretext they had done something wrong, but it would be in fact him who would lock the doors and abuse his vulnerable students.
“I feel the innocence of my childhood was taken from me,” a close confidant detailed on behalf of a fourth victim of Ferris.
“I was groomed and manipulated by Mr Ferris.”
Ferris made admissions to the charges in an interview with police and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity before he was committed for sentence.
He remains in prison and, on Friday, for the first time, he learnt of the life sentence he had given his victims.
“My life has contained excruciating secrecy,” another victim said, saying she had spent years trying to reclaim the “life that was taken from me”.
“My closest friend doesn’t know my past.”
For another classmate, her parents’ trust was “betrayed” by those “who turned a blind eye”.
“They didn’t keep me safe,” she said, fighting back tears.
“I suffered in silence. I couldn’t tell anyone.”
The court heard almost all of the women had suffered medical conditions as a result of their suffering and had lost trust, lived with anxiety, fear, depression, nightmares and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I cannot understate the harm that you caused,” one victim said. “I wish it never happened to me.”
"GROSS BREACH OF TRUST": Exposing a lifetime of suffering
By Breanna Chillingworth in Armidale
A COURT has heard horrific details of the "gross breach of trust" by a paedophile teacher who kidnapped and sexually abused students, as his victims spoke publicly for the first time in an Armidale court.
John G Ferris watched from the dock as seven of his eight victims read out powerful and emotional statements detailing a lifetime of pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of their former teacher.
Cathryn James chose to speak out publicly, waiving her right to the court-ordered anonymity, in the hope that others won't suffer in silence.
"There is no shame," she told Armidale District Court.
"It's never too late to get justice.
Ms James told the court the flow-on effects to her family had been profound, like most of her fellow students who were also victims, children and partners who lived with her fears.
Each victim recounted what fear had forced them to do for their family, with Ms James detailing the extra measures she would go to protect her children "for fear that their would be another predator" lurking "that would rob them of their innocence".
In an emotional impact statement, Ms James said she had been emotionally scarred by her ordeal.
"I'll never know who I could have been," she told the court.
"That's my sentence to live with forever."
Ferris was employed at Ben Venue Public School in the 1960s and 1970s when he targeted young girls, sexually abusing them on school grounds, behind closed doors.
After hearing the statements, Ferris wrote a letter from the prison cells which was read out in court, apologising for his abuse which spanned 12 years.
"All my life I knew what I was doing was wrong," his solicitor read to the court.
"The shame belongs to me.
"I was unable to stop.
"I again apologise to the ladies ... I hope it brings them healing for their lives."
Ferris remains bail refused and will be sentenced in June.