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Retired priests arrested

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 07 Mar 2012 @ 12:00

TWO retired priests have been arrested, after an investigation into allegations of child abuse in the diocese of Chichester.

Canon Gordon Rideout was arrested on Tuesday at his home near Eastbourne, on sus­picion of sexual assaults committed against nine young people in Crawley, West Sussex; Barking­side, in north-east London; and Middle Wallop, Hampshire, between 1965 and 1972.

On the same morning, Robert Coles, a former parish priest, was arrested at his home in Eastbourne on suspicion of sexual assaults against three young men in West Sussex during the late 1970s and mid-1980s.

Sussex Police have been investigating allega­tions of abuse for six months, after they received a confidential review of allegations against Church of England priests, conducted by Baroness Butler-Sloss (News, 27 May, 22 July 2011). Although several of the allegations had previously been reported to the police, there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecution at those times, Sussex Police said.

Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes said that the cases against the two men were being treated as separate inquiries. The offences were allegedly committed at different times and in different places from each other. He said there were no allegations of recent or current offending and that there is nothing to suggest that any children are currently at risk.

In a pastoral letter written after the arrests, the Acting Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, said: "I am writing to assure you that every possible step will be taken to root out anyone who is guilty of sexual offences with children or vulnerable adults. . .

"We owe this to those who have suffered abuse, and most especially to those who have suffered abuse at the hands of people exer­cising a ministry in the name of the Church, to listen to their experiences, being resolved not only to prevent such crimes being repeated, but to ensure that no one colludes with perpetrators of abuse by failing to report what they ought to report to the police."

On Thursday of last week, the diocese pub­lished a report by Roger Meekings, which details how Roy Cotton, a convicted paedo­phile, held several posts as a cleric, despite com­plaints made to the diocese. He died in 2006, before formal charges against him could be made.

The Meekings report formed part of the inde­pen­dent Past Cases Review, commissioned by the last Bishop of Chichester and completed last year. After its publication on Thursday, the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, who jointly chairs the Church of England's safeguarding liaison group, issued an "unreserved apology" on behalf of the Church.

In a column for the Nottingham Post, Bishop Butler said that Mr Cotton should never have been ordained. "I have felt phys­ically sick at the thought that anyone, but par­ticu­larly priests, should do such things to vulnerable, innocent children," he wrote.

The diocese of Chichester has also pub­lished Lady Butler-Sloss's comments on the Meekings findings. Certain assumptions and conclusions, she said, had made his review "in part at least, unreliable", and some comments and criticisms were based on "guesswork".

In an addendum to her review, published on 28 January, she sought to correct inaccur­acies about Mr Cotton's activities after his re­tire­­ment, based on information given to her by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, and the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn. "I very much regret that I ac­cepted the information I was given," she said.

An inquiry into the operation of the dio­cesan child-protection policies in the diocese of Chichester, set up by the Archbishop of Canter­­bury in December, is due to report shortly.

Organist on trial. The trial is taking place of the organist of St Andrew's, Wiveliscombe, in Somerset, Nigel Parkin. Mr Parkin has pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing two girls.

A special helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for anyone who feels the need for ­support or advice in connection with the Chichester cases or similar cases. The helpline number is 0800 389 5344.

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