THE Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, has expressed “deep shame” that a former priest in his diocese was responsible for the repeated beating, over almost a decade, of a woman in his parish.
Dr Wilcox said in a statement: “There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and it is a cause of great regret to us that the matter has only now come to court. Clerical abuse is a grievous breach of trust, which almost always, as in this case, causes life-long harm.”
The assaults by Hilary Alflatt between 1983 and 1992 were only part of a pattern of abuse that he allegedly inflicted on his victim at his Sheffield vicarage, a jury at Hull Crown Court heard last week. Mr Alflatt was also accused of treating his victim like a slave, forcing her to take a vow of obedience, making her prostrate herself before him, kiss his feet, and call him “Master”.
Dr Wilcox added: “I wish to apologise unreservedly to the survivor of this abuse for what she suffered and to pay tribute to her bravery in coming forward to seek justice. We have worked closely with the police and statutory authorities throughout this process and we continue to urge anyone distressed by this news to contact firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The jury heard that Mr Alflatt, who is now 87, had dementia, and so was unfit to stand trial. Instead, the panel was asked to determine whether he committed the offences rather than deliver verdicts.
On Monday, they found that he had committed actual bodily harm over almost ten years, repeatedly beating the woman with a bamboo stick. He was cleared of three counts of causing actual bodily harm on specific dates, and two counts of false imprisonment, including holding her prisoner at the vicarage for five days. Jurors could not decide on a charge that Mr Alflatt assaulted her, using a hot needle to brand her with a cross.
Judge Sophie McKone told the jury: “There’s no mystery — you know Mr Alflatt is not here. He has dementia; he is in a nursing home. Although you found he did the acts in count seven, the court does not punish him for that because he is not fit to take part in the trial. He is not going to go to prison.” Instead, she had to choose between an absolute discharge or making guardianship or hospital orders. A hearing to decide which will take place on 3 May.
During the trial, the jury heard police interviews in which the woman, who cannot be named, said that Mr Alflatt had made her take vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. Disobedience, she was told, would be “to disobey God”.
Questioned by police, Mr Alflatt agreed that some of the alleged incidents had happened, but he claimed they were consensual. He said the woman became “hooked” on him after they met in the early 1980s. He was at a “low point” in his marriage, and she was “sympathetic”. He said that she had asked him “to do things”, including beating her. He told officers: “I felt I had to keep her happy because I was in a relationship which, if it came out, would have destroyed my parish. She had a real hold over me.”
During the trial, the Rt Revd John Nicholls, who was Bishop of Sheffield at the time, said that when he confronted Mr Alflatt in 1998, he did not deny the allegations, and retired with immediate effect.