'Only murder worse' sex offender told


The victim of a school bus driver jailed for "depraved and unforgivable" sex offences against younger family members has described how the family was ripped apart by decades of silence.

James Francis Uren, 64, spent 13 years sexually offending against family members in Napier in the late 1970s and 1980s.

The offending was so bad that only murdering them could have been worse, Judge Stephen Harrop said.

Yesterday Uren remained impassive as harrowing details of his offending were told to Masterton District Court by two of his victims, who cannot be named.

One said he had destroyed her childhood, and left her crippled by a range of mental and emotional problems.

A fear of the dark had extended well into adulthood, because much of the offending happened in her bedroom with the curtains shut.

The memory of his beard on her skin still haunted her, and she had trouble touching her children because she struggled to know what was normal.

The offending had torn the family apart, including her losing the "love and respect" of her mother, who chose to stick by Uren despite learning of the offending.

"I have been made to feel as if the abuse was my fault, that I should have kept quiet and lived with the pain in silence," she said.

"Because I went to the police, I have lost the ability to enjoy my mother's company, and one of my brothers has also disowned me.

"In fact my entire family is in disarray as a consequence of what [Uren] did."

The family discussed the offending at a meeting in 1991, but no-one took the matter to the police.

The other victim also spoke of the effects on the family. "For 36 years the family has lived a lie, keeping the abuse a secret."

Before his arrest, Uren worked for three years as a school bus driver for the Exclusive Brethren church, ferrying students between Masterton and the Brethren's Westmount School in Palmerston North. A school spokeswoman declined to comment on the matter.

Uren also worked for some years in the 1980s as a Napier scoutmaster.

In October he pleaded guilty to seven representative charges that ranged from indecent assault to unlawful sexual connection.

He often got into bed naked with his victims, and at other times showered with them.

The offences took place when the victims were aged between 5 and 14.

Judge Harrop said the offending was predatory and premeditated. "It amounts to the grossest form of breach of trust short of murder . . . It's depraved and completely unforgivable."

Uren's actions would affect his victims, and their families, for the rest of their lives. "The number of people affected by what happened is substantial and will continue to be substantial."

He sentenced Uren to five years in prison and declined an application to keep his name secret.

Uren's lawyer, Louise Elder, said there was no suggestion any offending had taken place since 1988.

Her client had spent the past 30 years trying to forget what he had done to the victims, and was "genuinely remorseful".

Speaking outside court, the first victim said she was happy to see Uren jailed.

"It was almost like for years and years I was walking around with the lights off, and taking him to the police and seeing him in court was like someone had finally turned the lights on.

"For the next few years, he's going to feel how I felt since I was five."

Detective Sergeant Bill van Woerkom, head of the Wairarapa Child Protection Team, said the victims had shown huge courage coming forward.

"While we commend his guilty plea, we need to applaud the courage of the victims who have spoken up."

The Dominion Post