‘A complete betrayal of trust’ - Letchworth City Chorus founder and Salvation Army musician jailed for grooming 13-year-old boy over Facebook

Tony Ridgway-Cole has been sentenced to six months behind bars.

Tony Ridgway-Cole has been sentenced to six months behind bars. - Credit: Archant

A disgraced Letchworth choirmaster and Salvation Army musician has been jailed for grooming a 13-year-old boy over Facebook.

Tony Ridgway-Cole, who founded City Chorus in January 2010, was slammed by a judge as predatory and remorseless when he appeared at Cambridge Crown Court on Monday.

The court heard that Ridgway-Cole, 39, had systematically groomed the boy for 18 months in 2012 and 2013, encouraging him to engage in sexual acts and repeatedly bringing up the topic of masturbation.

Ridgway-Cole’s victim, now 17, was set to testify against him in court but was spared this ordeal when Ridgway-Cole changed his plea to guilty at the last minute.

Judge Jonathan Cooper sentenced Ridgway-Cole to six months behind bars with the words: “Monetary compensation doesn’t go any way towards making up for the damage you have done to this boy.”

The court heard that Ridgway-Cole had emphasised his faith, Salvation Army links and role as a choirmaster when presenting himself to the boy and his family.

The boy’s mother said after the hearing: “It was a complete betrayal of trust. He took advantage of a vulnerable young boy.

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“I’m just very pleased, this is more than I ever expected. It’s been two years of absolute awfulness. It’s a good day for justice.”

Stephen Mather, for Ridgway-Cole, told the court his client had special needs and had not understood the inappropriateness of his actions.

A police probation officer added that Ridgway-Cole had seen the relationship as fraternal, but had since been diagnosed with ADHD and was now ashamed of what he had done.

Mr Cooper rejected the suggestion that the defendant had only recently become aware of such issues, citing a report on him at the age of 11 from a school special needs counsellor.

He told Ridgway-Cole: “The messages speak for themselves.

“He told you your fantasies would not be realised, and that he was not gay. No 13-year-old should be required to do that in relation with an adult – less still one in a position of trust.

“You were sexualising that child at a time he was entitled to protection from a predatory adult, as you were at that time.

“I’m unable to say you are feeling remorseful. You have repeatedly minimalised this case.”

In addition to the jail sentence, Mr Cooper ordered Ridgway-Cole to pay £1,000 in costs, and imposed a restraining order and a five-year sexual harm prevention order.

A former City Chorus member told the Comet: “I left mainly because he was pretty rude. He used to make lewd comments and gestures – sexual inferences in choir meetings.

“The chorus committee tried to oust him in 2014 but a hard core of supporters saved his bacon.

“A lot of people are going to feel let down – and goodness knows what the Salvation Army are going to think.”

Ridgway-Cole’s partner of 17 years, Colin Ridgway-Cole, looked on from the public gallery along with several City Chorus members.

After Ridgway-Cole pleaded guilty to inciting the boy to engage in sexual activity, the court agreed to let a second charge of causing a child to watch pornography involving two men lie on file.

Ridgway-Cole is the son of the late Ray Cole, an army veteran and fundraiser who was widely known as the Letchworth poppy man.