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Church of England rocked by third abuse priest in as many weeks

Church of England rocked by third abuse priest in as many weeks
Vickery House, pictured praying for victims of terrorist attacks in 2001. Picture: Steve Dennett

By Joel Adams
Oct. 28, 2015

The church was rocked yesterday after a third Sussex priest in as many weeks was found to have committed sexual offences.

Vickery House, former vicar of Berwick, was convicted of five counts of indecent assault on males - with one as young as 14 - over a period of 16 years.

He was cleared on three further counts at the Old Bailey.

It comes after former Bishop of Lewes, Peter Ball, was jailed for 32 months on October 7 for committing acts of "debasement" in the name of religion with regards 18 vulnerable victims.

On Thursday last week, former Bishop of Chichester George Bell, was also outed as an offender after the Church paid compensation to a victim he abused more than 50 years ago.

Campaigners are now insisting that the national Goddard Inquiry, into sexual abuse, must start with the Diocese of Chichester.

House, who will be sentenced on Thursday, is the seventh Sussex churchman proved to be an abuser in the last two years.

The 69-year-old, of Brighton Road, Handcross, assaulted victims as young as 14 and even shared victims with Ball.

When House touched one victim, he told the vicar to stop. House responded by blocking his path and declared "I want you".

Offences took place first in Devon and then Berwick where House taught Bible studies under Ball as part of the "Give a Year for Christ" scheme.

Following his conviction it can now be reported that the pair targeted young men and aspiring priests together, with four acolytes abused by both.

One of House's victims in 1984 was directed to Ball, who responded by writing to say how sorry he was and to assure him that it would be looked into.

Both were arrested in 2012 following a church-led investigation.

The jury in House's trial was not told about his links to Ball who was referred to in court as a senior clergyman.

The Diocese of Chichester could not be reached for comment yesterday evening, but earlier this month Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby opened an internal inquiry into the Church's handling of the Ball case.

Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society, is now calling for the national investigation into abuse to start in Sussex.

Mr Wood said: "This raises serious concerns about the attitude of the diocese.

"We are going to ask the Goddard Inquiry to start first with Chichester where abuse has been rife for decades."

Phil Johnson, a spokesman for the MACSAS organisation for survivors of clerical abuse, called the conviction the "latest in a long line."

He added: "It just shows the huge extent of the culture of abuse in Sussex in the 70s, 80s and early 90s.

"And with the news about George Bell last week, it seems it went back even further than we all expected."


Another week and another Sussex clergyman has been found to have used his position to commit sexual offences.

The numerous abuse scandals backing up at the Church of England's door have raised questions of cover-ups, concerns over undue pressure from an Archbishops and even a royal and the threat of further payouts to victims.

A handful of internal inquiries have failed to stem the flow of court cases, with one campaigner asking: "What is wrong with the Diocese of Chichester?"

In the 1970s and 80s, we now know, Vickery House took advantage of young men, including a boy of 14, who came to him for spiritual guidance.

He shared victims with his former boss, Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, who was jailed this month for sexual crimes relating to 18 victims which took place as recently as 1992.

Last Thursday it was revealed that George Bell, the internationally-acclaimed wartime Bishop of Chichester, had assaulted a child in the 1940s, for which the Church has now paid compensation to the victim.

In all, seven Sussex churchmen in two years have been found to have committed sexual offences.

Worryingly, Ball and House are not the only two to have links.

Burgess Hill vicar father Keith Wilkie Denford was convicted in 2013 alongside church organist Michael Mytton for abusing 13-year-old boys in the late 1980s.

Since 2012, the diocese has seen the publication of the Meekings Report into past cases, an enquiry by Baroness Butler-Schloss, an Archiepiscopal Visitation Enquiry commissioned by Lambeth Palace and the publication of the Carmi enquiry into abuse in Chichester.

Despite these, new cases have continued to come to light.

The Church also continues to face accusations of a cover-up and the threat of legal action looms large.

Over the last few weeks it has been revealed that not only were some of the Bell accusations made in 1995, but in the case of House, no action was taken with regards one victim when he went to fellow abuser Ball to complain.

House's partner in crime told the victim "how sorry he was" and assured him it would be looked into.

Of course, it wasn't.

In Ball's own case there was also support from even higher up with a letter from an unnamed member of the royal family and former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, both backing the now convicted man.

Carey contacted the CPS to confirm that a caution accepted by Ball would draw a line under the case, but his intentions in doing so remain unclear.

Ball's victims are now threatening to sue the Church for more than a quarter of a million pounds with regards the case, which was first brought to light in 1992.

Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, has insisted that the Goddard Inquiry into historic sex abuse will begin with the Church of England. He has also opened an internal investigation into the Church's handling of the Ball case.

But campaigners have slammed the Church as being ill-equipped to investigate itself.

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, represented one of the alleged victims House was found not guilty of assaulting.

Following the House verdict hHe said: "These convictions reinforce concerns about the culture of the Church of England and its response to child abuse within its ranks."

"This catalogue of abuse within the Church needs to be investigated by the Goddard Inquiry."

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