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Former Liverpool vicar finally jailed for past assaults

22 December 2020

Archbishop Welby expresses his regret that sexual-abuse survivors were not believed


Liverpool Cathedral

Liverpool Cathedral

THE Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has paid tribute to a group of sexual-abuse survivors after the sentencing of John Roberts, a former Vicar of St Peter’s, Woolton, in Liverpool. The Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his regret that they were not believed.

Roberts, now aged 86, and of Cherry Vale, Woolton, was convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of ten counts of indecent and sexual assault against four people. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

He had served at St Peter’s between 1980 and 2002. In 1989, he was convicted of indecent assault against a 15-year-old boy, and was fined £500. He was reinstated instantly by the then Bishop, the Rt Revd David Sheppard, and continued as Area Dean. He was appointed an honorary canon of Liverpool Cathedral in 1995. He retired in 2002, but worked voluntarily as an honorary chaplain at the cathedral. It was here that he met the final two of the victims who came forward in 2017.

Archbishop Welby was Dean of Liverpool from 2007 to 2011. Appearing as a prosecution witness, he said that, had he been told the full detail of Roberts’s 1989 conviction, he would have dealt with the complaint differently.

He expressed regret at the Church’s inaction, and apologised to Victim D, who had, for a time, been banned from the cathedral for being verbally abusive about his treatment.

An earlier survivor, who died last month, said that Roberts had sexually assaulted him in the 1980s when he was aged between 15 and 17. He had been a resident at a home for children, Strawberry Field, near by.

Roberts’s case was among those that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) said that the Church of England had responded to inappropriately, because his ministry had been allowed to continue after his conviction in 1989 (News, 1 July 2019).

Bishop Bayes said last Friday: “Any case like this causes very great pain and distress to very many people. Most importantly, I want to pay tribute to the victims and survivors for their courage in coming forward and bringing this matter to justice, at great personal cost.

“I, and the diocese of Liverpool, take any safeguarding matter very seriously indeed. Churches must be safe places for all, and I want to encourage anyone who has concerns about the past or current behaviour of individuals or the Church to raise them as we will listen and act. We are determined to support survivors and see justice carried out towards any offenders.”

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