A SUCCESSFUL former Thatcham businessman with an “impeccable” reputation hid a sickening secret from friends and family – he was a predatory child molester.
And at Reading Crown Court on Monday, the respectable facade carefully cultivated by 70-year-old Michael Burch crumbled as he was jailed for his crimes.
The former Naval man, who performs locally as a guitarist and singer, not only coerced two young children into committing sex acts with him, decades apart, but he was also caught with an extensive online library of child pornography, some of it depicting the most serious abuse involving youngsters in pain, said the judge.
The latest assault happened within the last three years.
Ruth Zentler-Munro, prosecuting, said one victim was a girl aged nine and the other was an 11-year-old.
She outlined the horrific circumstances and added: “He placed the blame on one child and told her she led him to commit the offences.”
Ms Zentler-Munro read from the girls’ harrowing victim impact statements in which one said she was unable to trust men and that she remained “terrified” of what had happened.
The other felt “sick... stupid and foolish for letting it happen,” said Ms Zentler-Munro, and had “taken the blame on her young shoulders”.
When police raided Burch’s home in Simmons Field, Thatcham, they found nearly 2,000 child pornography images, a proportion of them at the worst end of the scale, the judge was told.
Burch admitted two counts of indecently assaulting a child and possessing child pornography.
Sarah Ellis, defending, said her client had enjoyed a hitherto “impeccable” reputation in Thatcham but that most of his friends had now deserted him.
She handed in character references from David Judge, Anthony Skinner and Katherine Hutchings who, she said, had stood by her client.
Ms Ellis said: “This is a tragedy for his family, his friends and for him. He now has a besmirched character of the highest order. It’s not the legacy he wished to leave.
“He was very successful in business but admits he is a flawed man and is deeply remorseful. He bitterly regrets these offences.”
After retiring to consider sentence, Judge Angela Morris told Burch: “You were ostensibly a man of good – one might say impeccable – character.
“Of course, what had been lurking in the background for many years, untold and undetected, was what you had done. The indecent images on your computer attest to your unhealthy sexual interest in young girls.”
Ms Ellis had pleaded with the judge to allow her client to resume his life with a suspended sentence, rather than an immediate custodial sentence.
But Judge Morris ruled: “These offences are too serious for that.”
Burch, wearing a dark suit and white, open collared shirt, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment with Judge Morris’ final words ringing in his ears: “Take him down.”