Report criticises police and church over child abuse vicars

A NEW report has slammed the Diocese of Chichester and Sussex Police for a series of failings in the way they handled reports of child abuse against two priests.

The Rt Hon Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss conducted an independent review into the way the Diocese and the Force dealt with allegations of abuse against Colin Pritchard, who served at Sedlescombe between 1989 and 2001 and the late Roy Cotton, who served at Brede and Udimore.

Cotton already had a conviction for child abuse back in 1954, but was allowed to continue to work within the church until 1999. Along with Pritchard, he was believed to have abused a number of boys in the Diocese. Cotton was never charged and died in 2006.

In 2008, Pritchard, who also served at St Barnabas Church in Bexhill between 2001-2007, pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault of children and three counts of gross indecency with a child.

The offences happened between 1979-1983 and involved two victims aged between 12 and 15. Pritchard was jailed for five years.

The report said there was “nothing remarkable” about Pritchard’s behaviour whilst serving in Chichester or Northamptonshire Dioceses which would have “raised any cause for concern”.

Baroness Butler-Sloss added: “Fortunately the child protection policy of the parish where he lived largely reduced the risk of misbehaviour by Colin Pritchard.”

But within the Diocese, she said there was “a lack of understanding of the seriousness of historic child abuse.”

She said there had been a “failure to respond appropriately” to allegations of abuse made by victims and the Diocese did not provide “adequate and timely support”.

But Baroness Butler-Sloss admitted support had been “much better” in the last three or four years.

In the case of Cotton, she said there had been “a failure to lead from the top” after it was revealed the Diocese knew about Cotton’s conviction, but continued to allow him to practice.

She added that Cotton should have been suspended “immediately” when further allegations were made against him in 1997.

Sussex Police were also criticised in the report for their “very inadequate” record keeping when they investigated allegations against the two men in the late 1990s.

The report said that Sussex Police’s approach to allegations of historic abuse “appeared, at the time, to have been superficial”.

But it acknowledged that the Force now treats allegations of historic abuse “with great care” and has “excellent” procedures for managing allegations against people who work with children.

This week the Bishop of Chichester apologised for the institutional failings which he said “caused deep and profound pain to victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Chichester.”

He said: “I feel deep and profound sorrow for the pain caused to all victims and for the institutional failings of the Church in this Diocese. “