Victims' lawyer slams church after ex-priest Vickery House jailed for attacks


Victims have called on government to stop the Church "policing itself" as the right-hand man of pervert bishop Peter Ball was jailed for six and a half years for a series of sex attacks spanning 16 years.

Earlier this week, retired priest Vickery House, 69, was found guilty of five counts of indecent assault on males - with one as young as 14 - in the 1970s and 80s.

During much of that time, House was vicar in Berwick, East Sussex, and worked under Ball - who earlier this month was jailed for 32 months after he admitted molesting young men between 1977 and 1992.

Three of House's victims were also abused by Ball around the time they took part in a Church of England scheme called Give A Year For Christ which was run by the clergymen.

The scandal has been mired in accusations of an establishment cover-up with former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester Ball, 83, counting a member of the Royal Family among those who wrote letters of support before he was let off with a caution in 1993.

The first accusation against House was reported to Devon police in 2001 - but for "unknown" reasons, officers failed to act, his Old Bailey trial heard.

Even earlier, in 1984, another young man spoke out and received a letter of apology from Ball for his colleague's behaviour.

He wrote: "I am sad beyond words and only wish that I had known sooner. All I can do is apologise so sincerely and deeply as I know how, and for that, though I know you feel that I am responsible, I have taken steps which I pray will ensure that nothing like it happens again."

Despite his assurances to the young man, police said there was no evidence to show that he had in fact done anything.

The pair were finally arrested in 2012 after police reopened the inquiry into their activities following a Church review.

Sentencing, Judge Christine Henson QC told House that he had acted in complete disregard for his victims "in pursuit of your own gratification".

"You should have epitomised all that was good, honest and moral about society. Instead that was the opposite of how you treated your victims."

The judge said that he had done good in his life but all that had been "tainted by the bad things you have done".

The delay in the first abuse coming to trial "allowed you to continue abusing your position within the church and indecently assaulting those under your spiritual leadership during that period", she added.

Afterwards, David Greenwood, of Switalskis Solicitors, which represents some of Ball and House's victims, said: "I am concerned that the church and its allies have allowed Vickery House and former bishop Peter Ball to escape justice for almost two decades.

"The whole affair demonstrates how high ranking officials have used their power and positions to protect their own.

"The church should no longer be allowed to police itself. The Government are failing the current generation of children by delaying a new law on mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse."

House's abuse dated back to 1970, when he twice indecently assaulted a 14-year-old boy who had fallen under his thrall in Crediton, Devon.

Another victim was assaulted after the defendant moved to Berwick, near the South Downs in East Sussex, to teach Bible studies as part of the Church scheme.

He told House to stop touching him and made to go to bed, only for the older man to block his path and declare "I want you", jurors were told.

The final victim was attacked when he went on a country walk with House for a "deep and meaningful" religious chat in the early 1980s.

On his arrest in 2012, House denied doing any of the things he was accused of, saying he was "flabbergasted and confused".

But in his defence, American-born House admitted harbouring repressed gay feelings despite being happily married to his childhood sweetheart for 47 years and having two grown up children.

House, of Handcross, West Sussex, said his first sexual experience had been with an older man he met when he went to theological college in Britain at the age of 18.

While he conceded that many of the incidents described by his accusers had happened, at the time he had "mistakenly" thought his advances would be welcomed, he said. He denied the incidents involving the 14-year-old ever occurred.

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

House showed no emotion as he was sent down from the dock to start his jail sentence.

Earlier in mitigation, his lawyer Sarah Elliott QC told of his "utter shame" at his convictions, adding that his wife and children had shown him "unwavering support".

She said: "He is particularly distressed at the shame he has brought on the Church and the diocese by his convictions."

The lawyer told the judge: "In the course of the legal proceedings of this case, Vickery House has had to admit to himself and others conduct and thoughts he found shameful and sinful.

"Conduct and thoughts he has had to keep secret for decades and my lady can imagine the strain."

The court heard that "numerous testimonials" had been offered on his behalf.