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HomeNew ZealandFormer teacher jailed for seven years for sexual offences against pupils

Former teacher jailed for seven years for sexual offences against pupils

James Booth was jailed for seven years for sexually offending against four boys he taught at a Manawatū school.

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James Booth was jailed for seven years for sexually offending against four boys he taught at a Manawatū school.
Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

As he was led to the courthouse cells, a teacher who groomed and sexually offended against four pupils received a loud message from the public gallery.

“Rot in hell,” yelled a woman in the Palmerston North District Court on Tuesday, where 80-year-old James Leslie Booth was jailed for seven years.

“You deserve the electric chair.”

Booth previously admitted 13 charges of indecency and eight of sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection against four boys he taught at a Manawatū school, which has name suppression.

Booth was a well-known figure at the school and his offending happened in the early 1980s, against three boys, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s, against another, all at a central North Island school camp.

The pupil offended against in the late 1990s and early 2000s read a victim impact statement to the court, saying Booth’s grooming and offending had ruined his life.

The man, whose name is automatically suppressed, lives in Australia and struggles with alcohol and drug problems, which he said affected his family life.

Twenty-five years ago he was pleased to be in Booth’s class, as Booth had taught members of his family, and quickly became a teacher’s pet.

Booth would take him to the camp and the pair would enjoy outdoor activities together – “basically, a young boy’s dream, and always having fun”.

“We would always go on holidays to Taupō, where he would spoil me.”

Booth bought the boy his first car, the pair would buy Lotto tickets together, using their “special numbers”, and later on Booth would get him beer and cigarettes.

At first, Booth didn’t offend against him, but that changed.

“Jim was my teacher. He was an older man and he groomed me, and that’s just not OK,” the man said.

“I think of someone doing this to my daughter and I know I’d probably be sent to prison for what I’d do to them.”

The man said he knew what Booth was doing was wrong, but he was confused.

He ended up living on the streets, abusing alcohol and drugs, and eventually moving overseas to escape his life in New Zealand.

But he did not completely escape Booth, who visited him in Australia, although there was no abuse then.

“It’s been the worst 20 years of my life,” the man said. “Unfortunately, I’ve continued my drug and alcohol abuse in Australia. I’ve continued to mix with not the best people…

“I’ve done and am doing things I’m not proud of.”

The man spoke of how his young family would beg him not to drink alcohol, as well as relationship problems he had experienced.

Coming forward to complain about the abuse he suffered was not easy.

“I’m sickened by the fact that Jim took away my freedom. He took away my innocence.”

Defence lawyer Peter Foster spoke of Booth’s remorse and sorrow for what he had done.

“He makes no excuses and is genuinely remorseful.”

Foster said Booth hoped to apologise to the victims in person.

Judge Lance Rowe said Booth groomed all the victims – plying the first three with alcohol before offending against them, and giving the later victim money and presents.

“Your victims tell a very sad story that this court often hears, of years of guilt and shame – feelings that are completely undeserved for victims, but they feel it nonetheless,” Judge Rowe told Booth.

The judge shaved time off Booth’s sentence for his guilty plea, remorse, and age and ill-health.

“I consider you are genuinely and palpably sorry for the harm you have caused your young victims,” Judge Rowe told Booth.

The court heard that among his ailments is a malignant tumour recently removed, arthritis and renal failure.

Booth will be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence.

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