Dean cleared of adultery blames bishop for trial

Andrew Brown reports on church court case with costs of pounds 200,000

The Dean of Lincoln, the Very Rev Brandon Jackson, who was acquitted yesterday on two charges of improper sexual relations with a former verger, Miss Verity Freestone, has launched an attack on the Bishop of Lincoln.

Cheers, applause and a single cry of "resign, dean" greeted the verdict at the end of a three-day trial at a consistory court sitting in a conference centre on the site of a Victorian lunatic asylum in Lincoln.

Miss Freestone, 32, folded forwards over her knees and sobbed briefly after the verdict and then trudged from the court room with her mother and sister as the Jackson family was embraced by delighted supporters. Mary, the dean's wife, had been in court throughout the hearing.

Dr Jackson, 60, issued a statement saying the case should never have been brought and had done incalculable harm to the Church of England. The case is estimated to have cost pounds 200,000. It is only the second brought on charges of adultery under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction measure of 1963 and may be the last. There has been criticism of the cumbersome and expensive procedure.

After the trial, Dr Jackson blamed his court appearance on a "conspiracy" to get rid of him. In a television interview he blamed Robert Hardy, the Bishop of Lincoln, who he said "could have intervened and stopped the proceedings". He added: "It seems that they want to have a public execution of the dean."

Miss Freestone had alleged she had a brief affair with Dr Jackson in 1993, and that they had twice been to bed, once at her house when her mother was away, and once at the deanery when his wife was away. She had told a canon of the cathedral about this in February 1994.

Anne Rafferty QC, for Dr Jackson, described Miss Freestone as "less than stable, less than secure, and determined and relentless and explicit ...". Dr Jackson, she said, had failed to recognise Miss Freestone's developing obsession but had otherwise behaved impeccably.

David Stokes, QC, for the "promoter" or prosecutor, had argued that Miss Freestone lacked the imagination to make up such a detailed story. "A clue to the character of Verity Freestone may be found in her diaries: matter of fact, somewhat mundane documents. You may think she was unsophisticated ... unimaginative," he said.

Judge Richard Hamilton, summing up, said that one side or the other must be telling a pack of lies. Dr Jackson, he said, "is of previous good character; but that probably understates it."

The court had heard six witnesses to Dr Jackson's character, among them the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Rev David Young, who described him as a person of strong integrity.

The jury of four "assessors", two laymen and two clergymen, deliberated for two hours and five minutes before clearing Dr Jackson on both counts.

Supporters of Dr Jackson said he had been the victim of a vendetta. They pointed to the poisonous history of relations among the chapter at Lincoln Cathedral, where Dr Jackson has been embroiled in bitter struggles since he arrived in 1989.

At one point Dr Jackson called in the fraud squad to investigate a loss- making expedition to Australia, made to exhibit the cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta.

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