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Survivors tell IICSA hearing of child abuse by Church of England clerics

06 March 2018


Philip Johnson gives evidence to the Inquiry on Tuesday

Philip Johnson gives evidence to the Inquiry on Tuesday

HARROWING details of child sex abuse carried out by Church of England clerics were described at a public hearing conducted by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), on Tuesday.

Two witnesses, both survivors of clerical sex abuse when they were children, were questioned by the Counsel to the Anglican investigation, Fiona Scolding QC.

The first witness, known only as AN-A15, a woman, confirmed that she had been sexually abused at the age of nine by Canon Gordon Rideout, who was the army chaplain and a commissioned officer on the army base where her father, a sergeant, was stationed. Rideout was jailed for ten years in 2013 for 36 separate counts of sex abuses against 16 children in Hampshire and Sussex in the 1960s and 1970s (News, 24 May 2013).

The abuse and subsequent events affected her education and her ability to form relationships with others as an adult, the witness said. “I became very withdrawn and moody; I didn’t want to engage with anyone; I didn’t trust anyone; I was very much on my own; so I stopped taking an interest in my education. I think I am intelligent enough that I could have gone on and gone to college.”

The letter of apology that she had received 30 years later from the current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, was “too little too late”, she said.

When asked what the Church could have done differently, she said: “They could have been more open to hearing what was happening at the time, and not have been quite so dismissive about it.

“It was not just me: there were lots of other people, and he [Rideout] was allowed to carry on with his career and be honoured in his career, and they [the Church] didn’t listen to anybody.”

The second witness, Philip Johnson of the survivors group MACSAS, was then questioned on the abuse that he experienced from Roy Cotton, who died in 2006, before he could be held to account.

Mr Johnson, who is now a member of the Church of England’s Independent Safeguarding Panel, confirmed that he had been groomed from the age of ten by the then Vicar of his church, Cotton, while he was in the choir, which had developed into repeated sexual assault by Cotton until Mr Johnson was 19.

“By that time, the abuse was routine and very serious,” Mr Johnson said. “Towards the end of it, I went along with it just to get it over it. . . That leaves you with a huge sense of shame and guilt. . . I desperately wanted to prove to myself that I was a normal heterosexual male. . . Yet I was having to sleep with a fat vicar on a regular basis. And that messes your head up.”

Mr Johnson said that he was also, at least once, violently sexually assaulted by Colin Pritchard, a known accomplice of Cotton, who last week was convicted of several counts of rape against a teenage boy in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mr Johnson described how repeated abuse had affected his own relationships. “It is almost as if my body has a memory of what happened to me. . . You are never free. It is a stain on your soul.”

Mr Johnson moved away to college, and his brother was subsequently abused by Cotton. “I do not know who I would have been if this had not happened to me, and that is very deep,” he told IICSA. “Although that is not a psychiatric condition, that is something that will affect me for the rest of my life.”

Mr Johnson then gave a detailed account to IICSA of his disclosure of the abuse to Sussex Police in 1996. This investigation was closed in 1999. He also gave an account of his subsequent communications in 2007 with the Bishop of Lewes at that time, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, and the Chichester diocesan safeguarding officer at that time, Shirley Hosgood, who was later to gave evidence to IICSA.

It was during these meetings that Mr Johnson was informed by Ms Hosgood that Cotton had had a previous conviction for child sex abuse in 1954 — before Cotton had been ordained in the Church of England. “It was as if nobody believed anything I said until the conviction of Colin Pritchard in 2008,” Mr Johnson said.

He was later questioned on his involvement with the Roger Meekings and Dame Butler-Sloss reviews, and on how the Church could improve its handling of allegations of abuse. He called for the simplification of its safeguarding policies, mandatory reporting, and an independent statutory body to hold the Church to account.

“Abuse has dominated my life,” he concluded. “That has had a huge impact on me and my family. The Church has continually failed me, and has failed many others. It has been slow to change and slow to accept responsibility.”

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