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 who was
sentenced on Thursday of last week for child-abuse offences.
The offender, Robert Coles,
aged 71, of Upperton Road, Eastbourne, 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
He was arrested in March
last year (News, 9
March 2012) at his home, and had been awaiting trial for seven
alleged offences of sexual assault. He had pleaded not guilty to
all these offences.
Then, at a hearing in
Chichester Crown Court on 14 December, he pleaded guilty to 11
offences. The Crown Prosecution Service said on Thursday of last
week that it had decided not to proceed with the seven outstanding
charges, which the judge said would lie on the court file.
Mr Coles was also served
with a Sexual Offences Prevention Order, which prohibits 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 that 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
Brighton Crown Court heard
that Mr Coles had made a "partial admission of inappropriate
touching" to the then Archdeacon of Lewes & Hastings, the Ven.
Nicholas Reade (later Bishop of Blackburn), 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
"full co-operation from the diocese of Chichester" in the recent
A spokesperson for the
diocese of Chichester said: "The extent of the abuse is appalling,
and the inadequate response at the time would be unthinkable
today." The sentencing 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".
Last Friday, Bishop Benn
offered the survivors "my own sincere apology and my deep regret
that anyone should have acted in this unspeakable manner". He said
that Mr Coles had met him and Archdeacon Reade, and "admitted
sexual activity with a minor". This had been reported to the
diocesan child-protection adviser, Janet Hind, who, he understood,
was the "sole point of contact between the diocese and external
agencies, including the police", and the Bishop of Chichester.
Bishop Benn said that there
was "inadequacy of training" in the diocese at the time. "However,
I was under no illusions about the seriousness of the situation
involving Robert Coles. . . There was no ineptitude on my part and
no cover-up on my part."
In 2011, the then Archbishop
of Canterbury appointed two Commissaries, Bishop John Gladwin and
Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC, to carry out an archiepiscopal
visitation to investigate child-protection policies in the diocese
of Chichester (
News, 30 December 2011). The interim report, published last
News, 24 August), said that "dysfunctionality" in the diocese
was preventing adequate child-safeguarding, and must be "urgently
On Thursday of last week, 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 safeguarding
of children and vulnerable adults should be the "highest priority"
for the Church. "There are no excuses for shortcomings," he