Community order for Oxford priest guilty of internet crime

02 November 2006

by Rachel Harden

THE Revd Richard Thomas, the former director of communications for Oxford diocese, was spared a prison sentence this week. Instead, he was given a three-year community order, after previously admitting to making and possessing indecent images of children.

Mr Thomas was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on Monday. A condition of his community order is his compliance with the Thames Valley Probation Services’ sex-offender treatment programme. His name was also placed on the Sex Offenders Register.

In September, Mr Thomas had pleaded guilty to downloading indecent material from the internet on his home computer. At that hearing, Judge Julian Hall had warned him that he could face prison (News, 15 September). He has been suspended from work since he was charged, and the diocese of Oxford began formal disciplinary proceedings against him after his conviction, which are not yet concluded.

In court on Monday, Judge Hall said that Mr Thomas’s previous good character and community work had helped him escape prison. The court heard that Mr Thomas had downloaded 104 images, mostly of boys around the age of puberty. A handful of these images were judged to be level five, the most severe category. Sentencing Mr Thomas, Judge Hall said: “I haven’t any inkling, not a suspicion, that your behaviour has been warped in a way which might have led to any physical abuse of any child.”

The former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries, and Sister Frances Dominica, the founder of Helen House Hospice in Oxford, supplied character references.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Thomas said, in response to questions, that he had developed a “depressive-addictive illness”, which he blamed on work-related stress.

A statement from the acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, said: “It is a matter of great regret to us that a member of staff should be convicted of such serious offences. The Church of England expects the highest standards of personal behaviour.”

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