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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Drama teacher's convincing act
John Owen
Some ex-pupils said they regarded Owen as 'untouchable'
Inspirational teacher, friend, nationalist and abuser.

Pupils and contemporaries talk about the drama teacher John Owen, 49, who committed suicide after sexually abusing pupils.

Charged with five counts of indecent assault, Owen was found dead in a caravan at Trecco Bay, Porthcawl, before he was due in court in October 2001.

A drama teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in Pontypridd, for 17 years, Owen was viewed by many as a talented teacher who had a fantastic rapport with children.

But people who were closer to him say he deceived them for years and showed different sides of his character to different people. One of his pupils during the 80s - who did not want to be named - spoke of the duality of the situation.

"On one hand he was extremely talented and very clever but all this was cancelled out by the abuse," she said.

He passed on worthwhile qualities and skills but these were all negated by the terrifying abuse which some people suffered
Former drama pupil
"He would run summer courses in the school so maybe 90% of the children would be having positive experiences while 10% of the students would be going through hell."

"Everything he did was on his own terms - but these terms could be a lot of fun of course. However it was awful being on the receiving end. Once when I was around 12 or 13-years-old he quarrelled with me and didn't talk to me for months.

"He passed on worthwhile qualities and skills but these were all negated by the terrifying abuse which some people suffered.

"He was quite shy and introverted and didn't like to go out in public. If there was a drama he wanted to see, he wouldn't go locally to the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff - he'd travel all the way to Milford Haven to the Torch Theatre so that he wouldn't have to see anybody."

She said Mr Owen was a fervent nationalist who felt individuals should stand and justify their commitments whether political or emotional.

"He inspired me to stand my ground and even today his mantra 'Here I stand, I can do no more. God help me' often rings in my head."

John Owen walking into court
Owen killed himself a day before he was to stand trial

"The ironic thing was that John Owen did not stand and be counted when it really mattered - at the end."

Owen was from the archetypal valleys village of Blaenllechau near Ferndale in the Rhondda. He did well at school and went on to train as a teacher and worked at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in Pontypridd, between 1974 and 1991. He was himself a pupil at the school in the 60s.

A pupil during the 1960s - at the same time as Mr Owen - remembers him being bullied and then of becoming a bully himself.

"We travelled on the same bus to school and I knew him from the age of three. He didn't care if he hurt people by shouting names - he just wanted to sound as if he was clever.

"He was quite big in stature. His parents kept a fish and chip shop - so I don't know if his size was a problem," she said.

"He was seen as a model pupil by the teachers, but I knew differently." The school was one of the first Welsh medium comprehensive to open in the early 1960s and was seen as a landmark school as it was a Welsh language foothold in the traditionally-English speaking valleys.

Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen
Owen had himself been a pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen

It was very successful and pupils came from all over the south Wales Valleys - from Port Talbot, Neath, Bridgend and Cardiff.

According to some of his ex-pupils, Owen was instrumental in continuing with the cultural ethos of the school and children would be encouraged to perform in dramas and take part in workshops.

Some thought he was almost "untouchable" because of his commitment to the language during this period.

However he resigned from Ysgol Gyfun Rhydfelen in 1991 following allegations about his unorthodox teaching methods and conduct.

From there he went on to become a successful television script writer, creating the popular Welsh language youth drama Pam Fi Duw? (Why Me God?) .

Once more he was heavily involved with young people and personally attended auditions for the series and hand picked many young actors.

His influence finally came to an end when he booked himself a caravan in Porthcawl's Trecco Bay resort and took a fatal mixture of morphine and whiskey.





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