February 2015

Con man, actor, child sex offender

Sean Johnson

A sex offender who held talent show auditions to gain access to children has been jailed for 10 months.

Sean Johnson, sentenced in Galway organised and promoted talent-show auditions around Ireland for children as young as seven.

He had a plausible manner, multiple identities and a dark past

Alexander Matthews, Alexander Quinn and Lexan Reid were just three of the aliases that Sean Johnson used. The 33-year-old performing-arts graduate from Derbyshire, in the English midlands, was articulate and boyish-looking and seemed bright.

But the life he led was at odds with what a judge this week called his very plausible manner. In late January a reporter interviewed Johnson by phone about his life as a homeless man in Cork. He had pitched a tent on scrubland outside the suburb of Douglas.

Johnson said he had ended up there as a result of “a bit of turbulence” in his life, although he expected things to improve soon. He said he was unable to work because he had no identification; it had been stolen, he claimed, from a warehouse in Dublin that he had been staying in.

Asked about his family in Britain, he said that he had been raised by his grandparents, who had died, and that he had no other family to help him now.

Johnson was hesitant about revealing his real identity, giving only the name “Dave” to me, the same name he gave in a radio interview for the local station RedFM. But he did offer his email address, which was under the name Lex Matthews.

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Galway

I saw Sean Johnson in person for the first time last Wednesday, February 11th, in Galway District Court. Dressed in a dark jacket and not quite clean shaven, he alternated between watching court proceedings and staring into space.

He kept his head low and his eyes to the floor as he was sentenced to 10 months in jail for offences under section 12 of the Sex Offenders Act, 2001.

It emerged in court that, over more than a year, Johnson had organised and promoted auditions for talent shows around Ireland under various aliases. On February 1st, 2014, while living in Galway, he held auditions at the city library for a talent show for children as young as seven, and hired a photographer to document their try-outs. Parents had submitted CVs on their children’s behalf and accompanied them to the event.

When the Garda discovered that the man running the auditions was a danger to children it arrested Johnson for violating his obligations as a sex offender. It held him in custody for two months, then released him after the Director of Public Prosecutions said to drop the charges.

Dublin

Around April 2014 Johnson moved to Dublin, where he again immersed himself in theatre and acting circles. He held scriptwriting classes and acting workshops and helped to organise a food and theatre event at the warehouse that he lived in for some weeks.

People who worked with him knew little of his background and said he initially came across as creative and persuasive. But, as they came to know him, some found elements of his conversation disturbing. One woman who worked with him in drama circles says, “He said that when he was young his father had tried to kill him. He didn’t say how he had tried to kill him. He said his father had been in prison but that he had not seen him for many years. He said he never wanted to see him again.”

Johnson spoke about working with the film director Ridley Scott and told his acting group in Dublin that when he hit the big time he planned to have plastic surgery, to change his looks so that his father would never recognise him.

Another woman, Denise, says she met Johnson in June 2014 after he invited her to his classes. Johnson charged his students €20 for theatre classes and €20 for film classes every Sunday. Denise took both.

“He was very well dressed. He looked like a professional,” she says. But of the 30 or so people at an introductory session, about half did not take up the classes. “They got the feeling he was a little bit dodgy,” Denise says. “They did not fully trust him.”

As the classes got under way the group of actors under Johnson’s direction grew closer. “We were like a family almost. We were spending a lot of time with him. He talked about this amazing flat he lived in, in Dublin city centre, paid for by this company he worked for called Synergy.” He was charismatic, optimistic and highly supportive of those in his class, Denise says. “We got so close to him that we ended up telling him things about our lives.”

Johnson told members of the group that his father had also sexually abused him. “But he told two different stories,” says Denise. “He never wanted anyone to take pictures of him or record him. He said the people who had taken advantage of him would come after him, that it was a group of people that had abused him, not just his father.”

Denise now believes that Johnson is extremely dangerous. “I’m upset with myself, because I Googled him and there was nothing. I thought there should be information online about him, since he’d said he worked on big projects like Dr Who and Skyfall. That should have been a warning sign.”

Johnson had little money and appeared to subsist on the generosity of others and on money from acting classes and workshops.

He stayed for about two months at a homeless hostel run by the Missionaries of Charity, a convent on South Circular Road in Dublin. Sr Edward, who helps run the hostel, says Johnson seemed a very nice man. “He gave no trouble. I didn’t find anything wrong with him,” she says. “We take in homeless people. He just came asking for accommodation. He told us about his background, and that was confidential, of course . . . They are given bed and breakfast. They can stay overnight and go away in the morning and come back in the evening.”

Johnson lived among eight other homeless people at the hostel. “He got on fine with the other residents. He was no problem,” says Sr Edward.

But eventually his behaviour aroused suspicion among members of his Dublin drama circle. As in Galway, Johnson raised money through voluntary investors in film, television and events, sometimes using crowdfunding methods. When his associates accused Johnson of misappropriating funds he left Dublin.

Cork

Johnson is believed to have arrived in Cork in early November 2014. He set about promoting a new agency, Cynosure Talent Management, through social media and local websites.

Posing as an agent on a Facebook casting site under the name Alexander Matthews, Johnson advertised on November 18th for “voice talent” from children as young as four, for a fictitious programme that he pretended was for RTÉ:

“Voice talent wanted for new independent RTÉ pre-school animated series . . .

“Penny – Female, Aged 14

“Paul – Male, Aged 12

“Paige – Female, Aged 10

“Peter – Male, Aged 7

“Poppy – Female, Aged 4 and 3/4

“Male, Adult – Multiple Voices

“Female, Adult – Multiple Voices

“Casting agency: Cynosure

“Apply via email . . .”

On the same page he advertised for a local “boyband project”: “Male singers between the ages of 16-24 wanted . . . genre: rock/pop.”

On January 13th, in a post on the website gaycork.com, “Lex Matthews” is described as “a former stage performer” and “the driving force behind Cynosure, Cork’s newest talent management and training provider”.

While setting up his talent agency Johnson used Cork Simon, Cork Penny Dinners and other homeless services in the city. He was at Cork Simon when a journalist from RedFM arrived to report on the hardships of the city’s homeless.

Johnson, using the name “Dave”, spoke to Neil Prendeville, one of the station’s presenters, in an interview broadcast on Friday, January 23rd.

Speaking to this reporter afterwards, Johnson said he had been living in the tent outside Douglas for three months. “When the rain and the wind is off you, and you are huddled in a sleeping bag, it protects you enough. It’s not ideal, but it’s all right,” he said. “Though I earn no money at all at the moment, I’m working in a sense. I’m getting ready to work. I’m not wasting my time.”

Johnson said the previous three months had been incredibly difficult. “Not having somewhere to sleep is the big issue. I’ve not gone hungry and not gone without warm clothes. People have been amazing. But you have to be resilient. I’m independent and strong willed. I’ve done a lot with my life. I consider this as a hiccup, a bit of turbulence, and I hope to get my life back very soon.”

Sparking suspicion

Johnson’s radio interview prompted much sympathy in Cork. But it also sparked suspicion. Two people who had encountered him in media circles in the city, and had questioned his credentials when he was fundraising for a film project, began to investigate. Searching social media, they unearthed multiple Facebook and Twitter profiles in various names.

By Sunday, January 25th, they had traced the alias Alexander Matthews, through Google Images, to a Myspace profile under the name Sean Letman. A search of this name led them to a newspaper report published in the English town of Tamworth, in Staffordshire.

As Letman, Johnson had been jailed for four months in 2009 for downloading pornographic images and films. Police had investigated after complaints from parents of children attending theatre classes at his Majestic Stage School in the town. His laptop had contained 34 indecent photographs and 23 indecent films, featuring boys under 12 and sex between adults and children.

Johnson, who was then 27, had admitted 16 charges of making indecent “pseudo-photographs” of children and a separate offence of failing to comply with the requirements of the UK sex offenders’ register. He was banned from working with children indefinitely, made subject to a sexual-offences prevention order for five years and ordered to register as a sex offender with police for seven years.

On Monday, January 26th, the people who had made the internet discoveries in Cork went to the Garda and to the journalists and media involved, including this reporter.

Det Sgt Adrian O’Neill and Garda Pat Fahy, who had arrested Johnson in Galway a year earlier, arrived in Cork on Tuesday, January 27th. That day Neil Prendeville contacted Johnson “to catch up” and recorded a telephone interview. In this conversation Johnson said he had experienced some “negativity” because “some people recognised my voice on the phone”.

“For the last couple of months I have been doing stuff and presenting myself as a professional, and people were saying, ‘Well how can you be a professional? You’re on the streets.’ There’s somebody been texting and sending messages out telling people not to trust me,” he said. “I think people are just confused as to what I am about. I’m trying not to allow it get me down, but it has done. I think more people found out about [my being homeless] than I was expecting.”

Prendeville put it to him that there was an allegation that his name was Sean Johnson and that he was a registered sex offender. Johnson replied in a tone of surprised dismay. “No. Where’s this come from?” Asked if he had worked at a stage school for youngsters in Tamworth, if he was investigated after complaints about child pornography and if he had spent time in jail, Johnson replied, “No. This is ridiculous. This is insane.”

After the interview Johnson fled Cork. O’Neill and Fahy picked him up in Tralee on Thursday, January 29th, when he checked into overnight accommodation. He was arrested, charged again with failing to comply with the Sex Offenders Act, 2001 and brought before Galway District Court on Friday, January 30th.

When the case was heard, on Wednesday, February 11th, Johnson pleaded guilty to living in the State between November 13th, 2013, and February 1st, 2014, without notifying the Garda.

Judge Mary Fahy praised O’Neill and Fahy for their commitment. “Let it be a lesson to everyone. It just shows you how vigilant parents must be when they bring their children to these talent shows,” she said. Johnson was taken away, handcuffed, in a Garda car. He is now in Castlerea Prison.

Denise’s name has been changed