Dean tells of blowing on verger's neck

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The Independent Online

Religious Affairs Correspondent

The Dean of Lincoln, the Very Rev Brandon Jackson, yesterday explained to a church court the circumstances under which he would blow on the neck of a verger. The Dean is being tried for adultery, which he denied repeatedly in evidence yesterday.

He is accused before a consistory court of having a "furtive and sordid" affair with Verity Freestone, a former verger at the Cathedral. Yesterday he denied all improper physical contact, but said he might have hugged her while counselling, or blown on her neck in the Cathedral cloister.

"Why might you blow on the back of the neck of a verger?" asked Judge Richard Hamilton, to laughter from the audience of about 150; and added that his question was wholly serious.

Dean Jackson replied that "she would be walking through the cloisters. I could have walked past and said nothing; I could have walked up and said, 'Hello, Verity'; I could possibly have walked up and blew on her neck as I walked past. I'm not saying I did so, but I could possibly have done it."

He had earlier explained to the promoter, or prosecutor, David Stokes QC, that he grew impatient with the ritual in some of the Cathedral processions and blew on people then to relieve his feelings

He denied any improper contact and said he had tried to stop Miss Freestone visiting the Deanery on the night of 30 November 1993 when she alleges they had a second brief and unsatisfactory sexual episode. He agreed that he had visited Miss Freestone, 32, at her home on the evening of 19 October, when the first offence is alleged; and that he had run there in jogging gear from the Cathedral. But he denied he had brought wine with him. He had gone solely for pastoral purposes and in the belief that her sister would be there as a chaperone. Nothing untoward was said or done during his 40-minute visit.

The judge asked: "Did the appearance of a bottle of wine and two glasses send out any romantic signals as far as you were concerned?"

Dean Jackson replied: "I put it down to a girl demonstrating a bit late on in terms of years - an arrested adolescence - that she was now big enough and old enough to entertain with a bottle of wine."

Asked what sort of wine he drank in the Deanery, he replied that he had no idea: he went to Tesco's and bought wine by price, in litre bottles.

He descried Miss Freestone as "unsophisticated ... tied to her mother ... and not very bright". He said she would have been sacked as a verger had she not resigned. He told Mr Stokes: "Verity is an insecure, unstable girl who needs pastoral care and sympathetic understanding. A flirtatious remark towards her would be unwise and harmful."

Mr Stokes replied: "You have convinced yourself now that you never did anything to her." Dean Jackson responded, "Did anything," with as much horror as Lady Bracknell spotting a handbag.

The tone of the proceedings was much less fraught than on Monday, when Miss Freestone was examined on the occasionally sordid details of her story. Several witnesses testified as to the excellence of Dean Jackson's Christian character. A former chaplain to the Cathedral, the Rev Juliet Montague, said she had given the Dean "a book of hugs". Judge Hamilton inquired seriously where he might buy it.

The hearing continues.