The former Scout leader James Morris has caused untold damage to the children he sexually abused over a period of 40 years.

Morris, also known as Ian Charles Phipps, is now waiting to receive his fourth jail sentence and this time it could be forever.

Stuff can now reveal that Morris has a string of convictions for child sexual abuse and was sentenced to preventive detention in 1997.

Published in Stuff

The sentence would have required Morris to prove he was no longer a threat to boys before being released from prison. But Morris appealed and the sentence was replaced with a jail sentence of six years.

When Morris was released, he went on to reoffend.

Morris’ two week trial ended in February with the jurors finding him guilty of 14 charges and not guilty of two.

His latest convictions include charges for sexually abusing two Boy Scouts in the late 1970s.

The 67-year-old went on to abuse a south Auckland street kid and another that he met working as a prostitute in a public toilet.

Morris’ oldest victims are now aged in their 50s. They had remained silent for years before the recent trial at the Manukau District Court.

Shortly after the verdicts were delivered in court, Crown prosecutor Tiffany Cooper said she would be seeking a sentence of preventive detention.

Judge Soana Moala remanded Morris to the High Court for sentencing. She said given Morris’ previous offending against children, his new convictions and the number of convictions, it would now be up to a High Court judge to decide his sentence.

The jurors at Morris’ trial heard evidence from survivors that spanned four decades. Morris used his position as a Scout leader and then as a film projectionist to target children.

And while the jurors were told of some of Morris’ previous convictions, Stuff can now reveal the full extent of his criminal history for the first time.

In 1979, Morris was a Scout leader at the First Mt Albert St Judes Scout Group.

He was also working part time as a projectionist at the Hollywood Cinema in Avondale.

The then 26-year-old was known by the Scout name Manuka and witnesses said he would give boys lifts home in his car. One of those boys was abused by Morris, shortly before being dropped at his gate.

Another spoke of being taken to the Hollywood Cinema. Morris sexually abused the boy in the back of the darkened theatre while the Rocky Horror Picture Show played.

Those two former Scouts would have to wait 40 years for justice.

Morris’ first conviction came in 1979 when he was charged with sexually abusing another boy.

Court documents seen by Stuff do not reveal the details of the offending but Morris was fined $300 and put on probation for a year. He went on to reoffend the following year and was sentenced to six months in prison.

The Truth newspaper reported that Morris – then known as Phipps – admitted two charges of doing indecent acts on Boy Scouts.

Justice Thomas Thorp was reported at the time as saying it was an inherent tragedy Morris was in the dock when he had so much to offer the community. The judge added Morris would need guidance after being released from prison and ordered he also be put on probation for 12 months.

Two years later, in 1982, Morris was out of prison and sexually abusing more children. This time he was fined $500 and put on probation.

A five-year gap ended with another conviction in 1987 when Morris was again put on probation and ordered to undergo counselling.

Two years later, in 1989, Morris was working as a projectionist, this time at a cinema on Great South Rd. It was there that Morris met a 15-year-old boy delivering newspapers.

Morris befriended the teenager and began inviting him to his home. Morris continually sexually abused the boy for a month before he was caught.

At the time he told police he had a sexual problem but had not had any help to deal with it. He admitted 16 charges and was sentenced to a year in prison.

In February 1994 Morris was back out of prison. This time he met a 13-year-old boy in a public toilet.

Morris befriended the young teenager and enticed him into his car and sexually abused the boy. On one occasion he took the boy into an area of bush and sexually abused him there.

Morris was arrested after a police operation targeted paedophiles that hunted in public toilets. He entered pleas of guilty 15 months later.

At sentencing, the Crown sought preventive detention for Morris, who by then had 20 convictions to his name.

Justice Graham Speight agreed with the Crown. The judge noted Morris had expressed a desire to reform in the past but had gone on to reoffend.

He concluded he had a duty to protect young boys from Morris and that Morris posed a high risk to the community.

Morris’ appealed his sentence to the Court of Appeal where he was represented by Raynor Asher QC. Asher would go on to be a judge at the Court of Appeal.

Asher argued preventive detention should be treated as a sentence of “last resort”. He said a psychiatrist’s report showed Morris now appreciated the effect of his offending on the boys and was committed to getting help.

The Crown was represented by Mark Woolford, who would also end up on the bench as a judge of the High Court.

Woolford argued that Morris’ offending was repetitive and showed he had a sexual interest in boys. Morris had also minimised his offending and claimed the boys consented to the abuse.

He said, despite having undergone counselling while in prison in 1990 and a specialised course for sex offenders of children, Morris had continued to reoffend.

A psychiatrist told the court that assessing Morris’ risk required balancing his history of offending with his apparent desire for change. The psychiatrist said Morris’ risk to the public would be reduced if he took part in treatment programmes inside prison.

The Court of Appeal agreed, substituting the sentence of preventive detention with a prison sentence of six years.

“The risk in terms of likelihood and likely type of offending is not so substantial and immutable nor the particular offending so serious that a sentence of last resort must be imposed.”

But the court also issued Morris with a warning: “We bring to the appellant’s attention, as a clear and stern warning, that this is his last chance.”

The recent trial shows the lawyers and judges only had part of the picture.

Other pieces of the puzzle would only come to light at his recent trial. They showed Morris had abused other boys in the 1970s and was still abusing boys in the 1990s.

One of the complainants in Morris’ recent trial told the Manukau District Court that he had been living on the streets when he met Morris.

Morris was working at a cinema complex in Manurewa and initially gave the boy lollies in exchange for doing odd jobs around the cinema in the early 90s.

“He made me feel like I was wanted or something like that … but at that age, I didn’t know right from wrong.”

The man, now in his 30s, told a detective that he could now see Morris was trying to “mould” him.

Morris later let the boy stay at his house. It was then that the sexual abuse started.

“He knew that if I left, I’d have to go back to the streets but he kept on pushing me,” the man said. “I couldn’t stop him because I was only a kid then.”

Another complainant was working out of a public toilet as a prostitute when the young teen met Morris. Again Morris offered to let the young person stay at his house, where he sexually abused the child.

He went on to sexually abuse a 10-year-old boy at his home recently.

The true extent of the damage Morris has done may never be known.

In 2018, during an interview with Detective Yutaro Kanai, Morris was asked how many boys he had sexually abused.

Morris answered: “I don’t know. I don’t… don’t know how many.”

Morris will be sentenced on July 10. He will then find out if he has used up his last chance.

SCOUTS RESPOND

Scouts chief executive Joshua Tabor said his organisation has contacted the Crown in an effort to make contact with the former Boy Scouts who were abused by Morris.

Because of the statutory name suppression given to survivors of sexual abuse, the organisation does not know the identity of the men.

“We have asked the Crown prosecutor to pass on our offer of engagement to the survivors who have come forward in the Ian Phipps case. We will provide support where we can.”

Tabor said much had changed in the Scouts since the 1970s when Morris was a leader. The organisation now carries out police checks on staff every two years.

It aims to educate young people about what they can expect from Scout leaders and operates a toll-free helpline for Scouts if they have concerns, Tabor said.

“Our policy includes protections such as zero tolerance for any doubtful behaviour, and no leader is allowed to be alone with a young person. This applies even if a parent has given consent.”

Tabor said the organisation asked to be included in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, but was disappointed when the Crown decided not to allow that.

“We do not shy away from these issues and believe all youth organisations should be having conversations about child safety.”

WHERE VICTIMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE CAN GET HELP

Rape Crisis – 0800 88 33 00 (Will direct you to a nearby centre), follow link for information on local helplines

Victim Support – 0800 842 846 (24hr service)

The Harbour – online support and information for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour

Women’s Refuge (for women and children) – crisis line available on 0800 733 843

Safe to talk – 0800 044 334, text 4334 or web chat

Male Survivors Aotearoa (for men) – follow link for regional helplines.

By Edward Gay
Published in Stuff
10 July 2020