Cathedral dean facing pounds 200,000 adultery trial

Andrew Brown reports on the latest embarrassment to befall the trouble-prone diocese of Lincoln
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The Independent Online
The Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, the Very Rev Brandon Jackson, will today become the second priest to stand trial for adultery since 1963.

The trial, which is expected to last four days, could cost churchgoers pounds 200,000. Both sides are represented top lawyers, Dean Jackson by Ann Rafferty QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association.

The case arises from allegations made by Verity Freestone, 31, who was briefly employed as a verger in the cathedral and claims the two of them had a sexual relationship, initiated by her, in 1993. Dean Jackson, 60, married with three grown-up children, denies her allegation.

However, the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev Robert Hardy, appointed a solicitor to look into Ms Freestone's allegation in 1994, as he was legally bound to do and this official, known as the examiner, concluded that there was a case to answer under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure of 1963.

The only other prosecution under this measure was brought in the late Eighties against Tom Tyler, a Sussex vicar, who appealed twice against his conviction and was eventually defrocked after a series of trials costing more than pounds 350,000.

Dean Jackson will be tried in front of Judge Richard Hamilton, a diocesan chancellor, who will sit with two lay and two clergy assistants. Derek Wellman, the diocesan registrar, will be clerk of the court.

Dr Jackson's trial is the latest in a series of bizarre embarrassments which have befallen the cathedral since Margaret Thatcher appointed him eight years ago.

Since then, the bishop, the fraud squad and a team of professional counsellors from the University of East Anglia have all examined the cathedral's workings and retired defeated.

The root of the problem is a medieval constitution which gives each of the five members of the cathedral's chapter (including Dean Jackson) enough power to thwart all the others but not enough to run the cathedral.

The chaos at Lincoln led the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to set up a commission, chaired by Lady Howe, to examine the administration of all English cathedrals.

The commission recommended last year a series of reforms which would have the effect of making another Lincoln impossible in the future.

Bishops would gain real power over their cathedrals - now they have none - and posts on the chapter would no longer be granted for life. But for the moment, the only way to remove a cathedral dean or chapter member who does not want to go is to find them legally guilty of immorality.

Dean Jackson has made strenuous attempts to rid himself of the chapter he inherited after he discovered that the treasurer, Canon Rex Davis, had taken the cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta to be exhibited in Australia for six months, and the fund-raising expedition had lost the cathedral pounds 63,000.

Dean Jackson publicised the story and called in the fraud squad, who found nothing untoward. But he has been unable to rid himself of Canon Davis, 62, who remains treasurer, and who last autumn described the dean as "repulsive and wrong".