A SERIAL child abuser has been jailed for 18 years after he was found guilty of a string of historic sex offences.
Among the abuse carried out by Martin Edward Whitworth, 59, was the rape of a five-year-old boy in the grounds of a church, police said.
In total, Whitworth, of Lynwood Road, Blackburn, was found guilty of 19 charges dating back to a six year period between 1968 and 1976, when he would have been aged between 13 and 19.
His former employers, Hobkirk Sewing Machines, said they were ‘gobsmacked’ to discover Whitworth’s sick past.
Whitworth admitted three counts of indecent assault on a male, another three of committing gross indecency with a child, and a separate indictment relating to the possession of indecent photographs.
During a week-long trial at Preston Crown Court, a jury also found Whitworth guilty of a further three counts of indecent assault on a male, and nine counts of buggery.
Whitworth, described by police as a ‘regular churchgoer’, worked his way up to the position of shop manager at well-known Blackburn town centre business Hobkirk Sewing Machines during more than 40 years with the company.
Mark Hobkirk, managing director of the Darwen Street firm, said: “Mr Whitworth’s charges came as a complete shock to us. We were totally unaware of such activities in his personal life.”
The judge in the trial instructed the jury to find Whitworth not guilty of four other counts. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison last month.
Mr Hobkirk, who sat in the public gallery during Whitworth’s trial, added: “Martin has been a loyal friend and an employee of ours for more than 40 years and was a very good salesman.
“All of this was a complete and utter shock to us. Obviously we knew he was a homosexual, and we had no problem with that, but the fact he did all this years ago was a shock.
“As soon as he was found guilty we sacked him. We want people to appreciate we were totally unaware of what he did.
“I would stress that Hobkirk Sewing Machines was unaware of what was going on and it came as a shock to us. Even if he hadn’t gone to prison, under no circumstances would he have continued to work for us. We are gobsmacked.”
Whitworth had joined the company as a weekend assistant back in 1972 when he was still at school, and went on to become well-respected in the industry.
Police said he was arrested and charged last November.
Detective Chief Inspector Claire McEnery, from Lancashire police’s public prosecution unit, said Whitworth’s conviction was proof that the force took historic allegations of abuse seriously.
She said: “The abuse took place both in the church and in other places.
“Lancashire Constabulary will continually strive to investigate offences of child abuse despite the passage of time.
“This instance proves there is no hiding place for such offenders from this police force.”