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Extradited CofE priest faces jail after abuse conviction

Extradited CofE priest faces jail after abuse conviction

By Paul Handley
THE CHURCH TIMES
Jan. 14, 2020

The Rev'd Meirion Griffiths, a former rector of St Pancras', Chichester, has been convicted of sexually assaulting two women in the 1970s and '80s.

On Monday, at the end of a six-day trial, a jury at Portsmouth Crown Court found Mr Griffiths, aged 81, guilty of two counts of indecent assault, one of them involving multiple offences, against one of the victims, Julie Macfarlane, who was a teenager at the time; and two counts, again one of them involving multiple offences, against another woman, then in her mid-twenties.

Mr Griffiths was remanded in custody. A date for sentencing has not yet been set, but he has been warned that he faces a custodial sentence.

The conviction comes at the end of a long process. Dr Macfarlane, now a Professor of Law in Canada, made her first complaint to the Perth diocese in 1999. By that time, Mr Griffiths had been working as a priest in Western Australia for 11 years, first as Assistant Curate of Albany, then Rector of Collie, and then Priest-in-Charge of Maddington. An internal investigation was begun, and the following year Mr Griffiths was told that he faced a hearing under the Clergy Discipline Statute. He resigned instead.

In 2014, Dr Macfarlane began a civil case against Chichester diocese. In late December, angered by what she called "litigation games" played by the law firm retained by the diocese's insurers, Ecclesiastical, she approached the Church Times with her story. After extensive (and expensive) wrangling, the Church Times published a version of her story, though with the name of the priest and the diocese redacted.

There was, none the less, enough detail for another of Mr Griffiths's victims to come forward, and Sussex Police concluded that a criminal case was warranted. Despite claims that he was too frail, Mr Griffiths was extradited from Australia in January last year. A first trial, last August, collapsed when the jury was unable to reach agreement, and the judge ordered a retrial.

Dr Macfarlane spoke on Monday evening about her relief at the outcome. Her message to other survivors was that "it currently takes an enormous amount of determination, and lots and lots of time, but it is possible eventually to get justice and accountability. But I wish it were not so hard."

The Sussex Police officer who supported the two survivors, Detective Constable Jo French, said on Monday: "This abuse has clearly had a profound impact on both victims ever since. Griffiths, by virtue of his position as local vicar, came to know them quite separately, and gained their confidence in order to systematically abuse their trust in him for his own sexual gratification.

"Both victims came forward quite independently five years ago, having finally found the resolve to come forward to seek justice. They have supported our investigation and gave evidence at both trials. We admire their resilience and courage in coming forward and doing so."

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