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Bishop blames police for abuse delays

08 April 2016


Parish church: St Helen's, Mareham-le-Fen  

Parish church: St Helen's, Mareham-le-Fen  

A FORMER Bishop of Grimsby, the Rt Revd David Rossdale, has denied that anything was “swept under the carpet”, after Stephen Crabtree, aged 59, of Ollerdale Avenue, Bradford, was sentenced last week to three years in prison for six offences of indecent assault with a 15-year-old girl; the offences took place in 1992 and 1993, when Mr Crabtree was Rector of St Helen’s, Mareham-le-Fen and Revesby, in the diocese of Lincoln in the early 1990s (News, 11 March).

Bishop Rossdale, who was Bishop of Grimsby from 2000 to 2013, said that the matter was re­­ported to Norfolk Police in 2000, but no action was taken. He said that he encouraged the survivor to report the abuse, after he was made aware of it: “She went to Norfolk Police, and was advised it was her word against his, and she didn’t wish to pursue the matter further.”

He said that he had “regretted” her decision, but did everything he could under the clergy-discipline practices at the time. “I’m profoundly disap­pointed with Norfolk Police. . . We wanted the police to take it forward; we got her to go to the police; it didn’t go anywhere. So it was quite difficult for us to know which way to go.

”I was surprised by Norfolk’s response. I felt that didn’t help. Had they been more supportive of the victim, all this would have been dealt with a while ago.”

A spokeswoman for Norfolk Police said: “In the absence of details as to who the victim spoke with at the time, we are unable to comment further on this matter.” The police force took “reports of such activity extremely seriously, and will do all we can to bring those responsible to justice”.

Mr Crabtree was sentenced at Lincoln Crown Court, on Thursday of last week, after the diocese of Lincoln carried out a review of past safeguarding cases, and passed its findings to Lincolnshire Police.

In a statement issued after the case, the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, said: “The sentencing of Stephen Crabtree is a just and appropriate punishment for the appalling abuse to which he subjected a child. The child had every right to expect to be safe in his company, and the devastating effects of his crime were compounded by the position of trust he held at the time.

”I am very sorry indeed that it has taken so long for proper justice to be served. I struggle to imagine the impact that such a serious crime has had on the life of the survivor of Crabtree’s abuse, and on the survivor’s family. I wish to pay tribute to their enormous courage and determination, and I hope that today they begin to feel that justice has been served.

”It was by following current House of Bishops’ practice guidelines that diocesan safeguarding staff recently discovered the allegations against Stephen Crabtree, and immediately passed the information on to Lincolnshire Police. It is deeply shameful that the Church’s past handling of the allegation fell well short of the expectations at the time.

”We stand ready to offer support to anyone who contacts us about issues of harm and abuse. We can promise that we will listen attentively to their stories, walk alongside them in seeking justice, and ensure that their voices are heard. We will also pass all information about possible offences to the police, and support any investigation.

”All people are made in the image of God, and abuse of any kind is directly contrary to the will of God and an affront to human dignity. The diocese of Lincoln is committed to ensuring churches are safe places for all.”

After the hearing, Det. Supt Rick Hatton, of Lincolnshire Police, said Mr Crabtree’s position was “one in which the victim, and the community at large, should have been able to place great trust. This was not the case; this betrayal of trust had a profound effect upon the victim in this case. It has taken great courage and a period of time for this abuse to come out.”

He said that Lincolnshire Police were currently working in partnership with the diocese to investigate a number of allegations of “non-recent” abuse. “These investigations have come about due to a detailed file review carried out by the diocese, and a desire to ensure truth and justice for all past victims of abuse. The sentencing of [Mr Crabtree] is as a result of this investigation.

”This operation is being overseen by strategic leads from the local Children’s Safeguarding Board, Children’s Services, and the police. This has the full and active support of the Bishop of Lincoln.

“What is important is that previous cases are not reflective of current church practice, and safeguarding policies within the Church, as they stand currently, are robust and transparent.”

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