THE Archbishop of Canterbury has apologised "with deep grief"
for the "betrayals and failings" of the Church in the case of a
former parish priest sentenced yesterday for child-abuse
The offender, Robert Coles (below), 71, was sentenced
to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to 11 sex offences
against three young boys, committed in the late 1970s and early
1980s, in West Sussex.
He was arrested in March (News, 9
March) at his home in Eastbourne and had been awaiting trial,
due to commence on 10 June, over seven alleged offences of sexual
assault. He had pleaded not guilty to all these offences. At a
hearing in Chichester Crown Court on 14 December last year, he
pleaded guilty to 11 offences. The Crown Prosecution Service said
yesterday that it had decided not to proceed with the seven
outstanding charges, which the judge said would lay on the court
file. Mr Coles was also served with a Sexual Offences Prevention
Order prohibiting him from any contact with the three victims, from
having any unsupervised contact with boys under 16, and from
seeking any employment or voluntary work which would involve
unsupervised access to children under 16. He was also required to
register as a sex offender for life on his release from prison.
None of the charges related to any allegations of recent or
current offending and police emphasised that there was nothing to
suggest that any children were currently at risk.
Brighton Crown Court heard that Mr Coles had made a "partial
admission of inappropriate touching" to the then Archdeacon of
Lewes and Hastings, the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, in 1997. The matter
was referred to the then Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn,
who launched an investigation. Mr Coles resigned and retired, and
the diocese of Chichester passed information to a child-protection
adviser, but not to the police.
Detective Inspector Jez Prior of Sussex Police said yesterday
that the force had received the "full co-operation from the diocese
of Chichester" in the recent investigation.
A spokesperson for the diocese of Chichester said that the
sentencing of Mr Coles was "a traumatic reminder of the inherited
safeguarding failures in the history of this diocese. The extent of
the abuse is appalling, and the inadequate response at the time
would be unthinkable today." The sentence marked "another step on
our path towards ensuring that all past cases of abuse are brought
to light and that the perpetrators are brought to justice".
In 2011, the Rt Revd Lord Williams, then Archbishop of
Canterbury, appointed two Commissaries, Bishop John Gladwin and
Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC, to carry out an archiepiscopal
visitation, the first for more than 100 years, to investigate the
operation of child protection policies in the diocese of Chichester
News, 30 December 2011). The interim report, published in
News, 7 September) said that "dysfunctionality" in the diocese
was preventing adequate child-safeguarding, and must be "urgently
Yesterday, Archbishop Welby confirmed that the Commissaries were
continuing their work in the diocese. He had been "appalled" by the
details of the case of Mr Coles: "The systems designed to protect
the survivors clearly failed, their vulnerability was taken
advantage of, and their lives have been deeply and in some cases
permantenly affected, as have the lives of those who love them."
The safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults should be the
"highest priority" for the Church. "There are no excuses for