A boy who was taking gymnastics lessons in Langley revealed to his parents in March 2014 that one of his coaches had been touching him in an inappropriate manner.
The ensuing police investigation resulted in eight other boys saying the same thing had happened to them and 19 charges being laid against John William Henry, 33.
On Friday in Surrey provincial court, several parents of these boys were present at a sentencing hearing for Henry, an Abbotsford resident who previously pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexual assault and one count of possession of child pornography. (The nine other charges were stayed.)
The judge’s decision on sentencing will be given at a later date.
During the hearing, Crown lawyer Jodie Harris detailed how, over a nine-month period starting in mid-2013, Henry assaulted the boys – mostly ages eight and nine – while he was a coach with the Langley Gymnastics Foundation, where he had worked for four years.
Most of the assaults involved Henry touching the boys on their genitals, outside of their pants, while assisting them with gymnastic maneuvers or while serving as a chaperon/counsellor at a summer camp.
The victims described to investigators that the way Henry touched them made them feel uncomfortable, especially because other coaches touched only their legs or backs to assist them with maneuvers.
Other incidents involved Henry exposing himself to the victims; kissing their hands, arms or lips; or looking at their genitals while they were sleeping.
In one case, Henry briefly performed oral sex on one of the boys.
Harris said that Henry would tell the boys not to say anything about what had happened, because he could lose his job or go to jail.
Henry was arrested the same day that the matter was first revealed to police, and he confessed to a total of five victims.
The four others were discovered as police continued to investigate.
The child porn charge was laid after Henry confessed to having downloaded images of child sexual abuse and told police that they would find the micro SD memory card hidden in a railing on his bed.
Victim-impact statements read in court detailed the trauma that Henry’s actions caused to the victims and their parents. Among the difficulties being experienced by the victims are anxiety, nightmares, a lack of trust and a fear of being left alone.
“To have taken the innocence from these children …. is what infuriates me the most,” one mom wrote.
The court also heard findings from a pre-sentence report, including psychological testing, done on Henry.
The report indicated that Henry had grown up in a stable and loving home, but became interested in images of child sexual abuse in his 20s because he found them to be “more innocent and less aggressive” than adult pornography.
In viewing child porn, he came to see such behaviour as acceptable and he was ignorant of the damage it could do, although the report indicated that he no longer feels that way, Harris said.
She said the report states that Henry feels remorse and disgust for his behaviour, would like to apologize to the victims, and plans to participate in sex offender programs while in prison.
The Crown and defence lawyers presented a joint submission in court, recommending that Henry receive a six-year sentence.
He has been in prison since his arrest in March 2014.