Archdeacon says up to 40 women were abused

Scandal in Sheffield: Concerns grow over Church of England `cult' as the number in need of counselling exceeds first fears
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The Independent Online


Forty women - twice as many as first thought - may have been abused by the Rev Chris Brain, the leader of the Nine O'Clock Service, the Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven Stephen Lowe, said yesterday.

Rachel Ross, the social responsibility officer for the diocese of Sheffield, yesterday confirmed that there had been between 70 and 80 "specific requests for counselling" from both men and women, married and single.

Ms Ross said that there was a team of between 30 and 40 people currently counselling victims, including one clergyman and a psychotherapist who are treating Mr Brain.

"People's stories are about being abused psychologically in terms of a power relationship and some people in terms of a sexual relationship. There has been abuse over a long period of time," she said.

A former member of the cult spoke out yesterday about the abuse. Lucy (not her real name) said: "Chris is very clever and he could suss out people's vulnerabilities and he used that to isolate and marginalise people. He would ruthlessly ensure that people were robbed of any sort of voice. He would poison people's minds against their friends.

"He is very skilled at manipulating people. They would be made to feel they had done something wrong for the treatment he gave them to be meted out."

Lucy, 43, a committed Christian, had been a member of the Nine O'Clock Service since its inception in 1986. She did not suffer the sexual abuse from Mr Brain that as many as 20 others are said to have suffered. In fact, Mr Brain's admission of his sexual wrongdoings on Tuesday came as a surprise to her.

"I had no inkling at all about the sexual misconduct but things did change. Over the last three years I grew increasingly more uncomfortable with the way people were treated with disrespect. I was emotionally abused. Most people were emotionally and psychologically very abused."

However, Archdeacon Lowe denied rumours of financial impropriety which have been circulating. The group held its accounts separately from the mother church of St Thomas in Crookes. It employed at least five people full time.

"The financial affairs of the NOS are impeccable. Their accounts have been audited by a respectable firm in Sheffield," the archdeacon said. Mr Brain was never paid by the Church of England but by the group, although his deputy, Steve Williams, was paid by St Thomas's.

As the dimensions of the scandal sank in, the wider church was uncertain how to apportion blame. The editor of the Church Times, Paul Handley, said that the real problem was not sexual abuse.

"One wonders, if there had been no sex involved, would there have been an outcry? But the damage isn't the sex, it's the cult," he said. "It's taking people's decisions away from them which does the damage and countless clergy, among them all the good ones, are on the edge of that all the time."

The Very Rev Tom Wright, the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, said: "This happens again and again when you have these very emotional groups. You end up believing that you have attained a state where God is guiding and leading whatever you do."