Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Church official abused girls for year after fears raised

Published Date: 25 September 2007
By Rob Preece
A CHURCH official from Yorkshire was allowed to continue molesting young girls for a year after a senior clergyman dismissed concerns about his behaviour.
William Middleton, 64, a sacristan, or churchwarden, in the Diocese of Wakefield, was jailed for three years yesterday after he admitted sexually abusing four girls.Leeds Crown Court heard that an assistant priest had raised concerns about Middleton's behaviour a year before he was arrested, but the priest in charge allayed his fears, telling him: "Yorkshire people are fairly tactile".Judge Kerry Macgill told Middleton: "That person's concerns had been pooh-poohed in some way, but you were a bit more than tactile – yours was sexual behaviour."What I have read about you ... leads me to believe that the only thing that will frighten you away from children is the clang of the jail door."The priest in charge at the church, which cannot be identified for legal reasons, issued a statement last night, insisting he had "great sorrow" for the ordeals of the abused children and their families."While what has happened in this case is extremely rare, it represents a terrible betrayal of trust," he said.The court heard the allegations came to light when the mother of one of the victims contacted police earlier this year.At the same time, she also contacted an assistant priest, to whom the allegations "did not come as a complete surprise".Robin Frieze, prosecuting, said: "He had had concerns about this defendant for about a year prior to the allegations and, in particular, he had been concerned by the defendant's behaviour towards a number of young girls."When the assistant priest had raised concerns about Middleton's behaviour with the priest in charge, he was advised there was "nothing to worry about"."He was told that Yorkshire people were fairly tactile and he shouldn't worry too much," Mr Frieze said.Middleton, who molested one of his victims during a church service, told police he had been abused as a child and "felt a compulsion to touch young children".He also told police that some of his accusers were liars and admitted he had touched other children, but refused to give their names, Mr Frieze said.Middleton, of Hardwick Road, Featherstone, near Pontefract, had already pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual activity with a child and three counts of sexual assault against a child under 13.He was given a sexual offences prevention order, and told he would remain on the Sex Offenders' Register for life.Sam Andrews, defending, said Middleton wished to "take back unreservedly" his claims that some of his accusers had made up their allegations.He also argued that Middleton deserved a suspended prison sentence as the likelihood of his reoffending was low.A Diocese of Wakefield spokeswoman said it would review the case "to see if lessons can be learned".She said: "Middleton had been checked and cleared through the Criminal Records Bureau and was suspended as soon as the diocese was made aware of the allegations."Although some informal concerns were raised about Middleton, the church had no reason to suspect inappropriate behaviour but if the church has failed to prove itself a safe place for children, that is deeply regretted."The co-director of the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, Jonathan Bartley, said: "At local churches up and down the country there is often a reluctance to acknowledge that abuse could happen at a church."You find that churches are collections of sinners, not saints, particularly when it comes to child protection guidance; there is no room for complacency."

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