The victims of a ‘sexual predator who preyed on children’ in the 1970s and 1980s confronted their abuser in court today (Thursday 18 April) as he was jailed for more than 8 years.
Former Christian youth group leader Michael Pulsford, 68, admitted sixteen counts of indecently assaulting three boys and three girls aged between 12 and 15 at previous court hearings.
The charges followed a lengthy investigation carried out by Hampshire Constabulary’s Operation Marmion team, who specialise in investigating non-recent child sex abuse allegations.
Southampton Crown Court heard today that Pulsford, of Station Road in Corsham, Wiltshire, had been a leader at the Christian organisation ‘Crusaders’ where he met the majority of his victims.
The abuse, which spanned a 15 year period between 1974 and 1989, took place at football camps organised by Crusaders on the Isle of Wight, as well as at Pulsford’s home and in his office where he worked as a solicitor in Wiltshire, and in his car.
Prosecutor Simon Wilshire told the court that each victim encountered Pulsford by reason of them attending themselves, or knowing people who attended, the Crusaders.
The prosecutor said that one victim, a girl who was aged 15 at the time of the abuse, had met Pulsford through the Crusaders before conducting work experience at his solicitor’s firm.
Mr Wilshire said: “The work experience went without incident and she was invited to return for a summer job. When she returned she started to get uncomfortable feelings.”
The court then heard how Pulsford proceeded to assault the teenager on three separate occasions, beginning with a forceful kiss on his office sofa before progressing to more serious sexual touching. He also told the girl that he had fantasised about having sex with her, before telling her ‘but we can’t, because you’re only 15.’
One victim, a boy aged 15, was taken into a dormitory and indecently assaulted by Pulsford during a sports camp on the Isle of Wight in 1974. Another was abused in Pulsford’s office in 1976, where Pulsford told him that he loved him, the court heard.
“[The victim] thought he meant love in a mentoring and caring way, until it turned sexual,” Mr Wilshire said.
A third boy was abused at the age of 12 when spending the night at Pulsford’s Wiltshire cottage in 1978, where he was invited into bed with his abuser after the two stayed up watching a scary film.
“[The victim] froze”, Mr Wilshere said, “he freaked out and jumped out of Pulsford’s bed and ran back to his room.
“Pulsford was aggressive and told him not to repeat what had happened”.
The court heard that another girl had been forcibly kissed by Pulsford in his home, who she had met as a result of her boyfriend attending the Crusaders, while a third girl had been groomed by Pulsford before he abused her ‘every Friday in the winter months’ of 1984 while she was a member of Crusaders.
One victim said: “That week changed my life forever. I was a child in his care.
"Children need lines beyond which adults do not go. He manipulated me into making a choice that was not a choice. He bullied me for his own selfish gratification.
"I trusted him as a person of authority, a professed Christian. It never occurred to me that sexual activity was on the agenda."
He added: “I have cried enough tears to fill the River Thames.”
Pulsford remained stone-faced in the dock as victims talked about the shame and guilt they carried as a result of the abuse. In a statement, one victim told how he had very few memories of his childhood as he had ‘blocked them out’, and continues to struggle with chronic insomnia.
Another victim told the courtroom that he was haunted by media coverage of child abuse cases, and was ‘appalled’ to find out on Google that Pulsford had defended a number of child sex offence cases in his role as a solicitor.
Jailing Pulsford, His Honour Judge Peter Henry said: “What those who speak so highly of you did not know is that between 1974 and 1989 when you were aged 23 to 38 years-old, you were a sexual predator who preyed on six children, three boys and three girls, who at the time were aged between 12 and 15 years-of-age.
“Throughout that period, you were a leader of your local [Crusaders] group, and thereafter in a position of considerable influence over impressionable children.
“Very far from those Christian values that you were pretending to demonstrate, you took advantage of that relationship to abuse children sexually for your own gratification and with no regard for the damage that you were potentially doing, and as it turns out have done.”
Pulsford was handed a sentence of 8 years and 8 months in jail, and his name was added to a barred list preventing him from working with children for life.
Detective Inspector Toby Elcock, Senior Investigating Officer, said:
“Michael Pulsford was trusted as a youth group leader to protect the children in his charge, but instead abused this trust over and over again by indecently assaulting them.
“This was a complex investigation carried out by the Operation Marmion team, and we are pleased that the victims have now finally found justice having suffered the effects of this terrible abuse for decades.
“The bravery and courage they have shown during the course of this investigation is remarkable.
“I want to appeal to anyone who has been affected by this type of abuse to come forward and talk to us, and be reassured that you don’t have to suffer in silence.”