Cadw Cyfrinach – Keeping a Secret

Apr 6, 2021

Keeping a Secret –John Owen abuse survivor speaks out

“He would call me over to his office to discuss a script or a speech I was working on. He would lock the door and pull the zip of my trousers down. My heart would sink because I knew what was coming next.”

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These are the shocking words of one of the victims who survived abuse by the drama teacher John Owen.

In a new documentary, Cadw Cyfrinach (Keeping a Secret) on S4C on Wednesday 7 April at 9.00 one of the survivors, who was a former pupil of John Owen, shares his experiences, his thoughts and the effect that years of abuse had on those pupils in Ysgol Rhydfelen between 1977 and 1992.

This is the first time that he has spoken on camera, and certainly, he thought very carefully before deciding to do this.

“I respect the others, the other boys that I’m in contact with. They don’t feel that they can. This is my story, but it’s the story of all of us and I feel that I have to represent them. It’s not easy, this is a massive deal,” he said.

“John Owen started grooming me at a very young age when I first started at Ysgol Rhydfelen. I didn’t know that the trap I was in was going to turn so sinister. I enjoyed performing, singing reciting and competing – I remember thinking – right, I must get him to notice me. He was an incredibly charismatic man and you wanted him to praise you.”

Certainly, Ysgol Rhydfelen was famous for being a good school, and they succeeded in getting children from non-Welsh homes to feel passionate about the language. The school produced high quality shows and nearby schools would regularly travel to see Rhydfelen shows.

“We worked hard in those shows. John Owen always insisted upon loyalty from you. If you weren’t 100 per cent with him – you were against him and you were the enemy. That was one of the ways he manipulated us. He could help me with what I wanted in my life and I had to make that bargain with the devil.”

“I started staying overnight at his house and he’d say – it’s a cold night – you might as well share a bed with me, and he started touching me.”

“And when all the sexual abuse started, I’d just switch off, and try and take myself to another place.”

Even though now, many years later, he could hate John Owen for what he did to him, he admits that there was a likeable side to the man who abused him.

“He was a man who gave me a lot of of advice, there was a very caring and kind side to him and he could get some great work out of me.”

“Emotionally, I am still angry with him. I blame him for injuring me but I can also make excuses for him and to see him as a victim.”

John Owen killed himself in 2001 before standing trial for the sexual assault of former pupils. This led to the Clywch inquiry in 2004, an investigation by Peter Clarke, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales at the time.

The report found that no-one who heard the evidence in the inquiry would doubt that John Owen was guilty of acts of gross sexual indecency against some pupils at Ysgol Rhydfelen. It notes also that the evidence had showed that Mr Owen, in all probability, had abused pupils under his care over a number of years.

John Owen also scripted and produced a drama series for young people Pam Fi Duw (Why Me God) for S4C between 1997 and 2002.

As well as hearing about the painful experiences of the survivors, we also hear from some of the Pam Fi Duw actors and the reporter Eifion Glyn, who reported on the story and has researched into John Owen’s history for many years.

It is now nearly 20 years since John Owen killed himself in a caravan in Porthcawl after failing to appear at his trial in Cardiff Crown Court, but the scars are still very much alive in the minds of the victims.

“The night we heard that John Owen had killed himself, we all went for a drink. At last, the whole thing was over.”

Cadw Cyfrinach
Wednesday, 7 April, 9.00
English subtitles available
On demand: S4C Clic, BBCiPlayer and other platforms
A Wildflame Production
 for S4C

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