John Earle
John Earle, 87, of Upton Pyne, Devon, was deputy headmaster at a private school in Okehampton when he committed the offences between 1957 and 1961 Devon and Cornwall Police

A former presenter of the BBC's Jackanory has been jailed for four years after a series of sex assaults on a nine-year-old boy nearly 60 years ago.

John Earle, who presented a number of children's TV programmes in the 1960s and 70s, sexually abused Iain Peters, now aged 69, at Upcott House Preparatory School in Devon.

Earle, now 87, was deputy headteacher at a boarding school in Okehampton when the assaults started in 1957. They continued until 1961.

On Friday (28 April) Earle was sentenced to four years in prison and ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life at Exeter Crown Court after admitting six counts of indecent assault.

The offences took place before he carved out a career at the BBC when he presented the children's show Tom Tom in the 1970s and the popular storytelling show Jackanory.

Peters told police how he was taken from his bed at the school into the private room of Earle and forced to engage in sexual activity. Earle would give the boy a slice of buttered toast as a treat and told him that the incidents were "their little secret".

The abuse was said to have taken place at least once a week at the school – which closed in the 1960s – and on weekend trips aboard Earle's boat in Dartmouth.

Prosecuting, Richard Crabb said the boy was shown favouritism by Earle, who is now married. Nowadays, such treatment would be described as "grooming", added Crabb.

In a victim impact statement read to the court by Crabb, Peters said: "As a result of the crimes John Earle committed against me I felt shame, fear and insecurity for 50 years."

He added that he "lived in terror [that the] shameful and disgusting" acts would come out. On a Channel 4 report on the crimes, Peters admitted that he had once thought about killing Earle.

After the verdict Peters waived his right to anonymity. The "terrible burden of shame" that had blighted his life had now been lifted, he said.

"While this case dealt with child sexual abuse committed a long time ago, there are far too many vulnerable children still being abused today and we, as a society, must work harder to stop this," he said.

"This issue need to be pressed as an urgent social problem with profound consequences.

"We have to try to understand why abusers pervert sexual power and do such terrible damage to children."

Defending Earle, Nicolas Gerasimidis said: "This was a complete aberration. There has been no repetition of this type of offending."