Dean 'took advantage of confused woman'

Andrew Brown reports on the cruel informality of the church court hearing allegations of adultery; The court heard she flirted with a coach driver; 'He was too tired to perform after his jog'
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The Independent Online
There is a terrible intimacy about the trial of Brandon Jackson, and a grinding, mechanistic cruelty which is made worse by the apparent informality of the proceedings. Either the dean and his family, or his accuser, Verity Freestone will end with their lives ruined. Possibly all will. But no one can stop it now.

Yesterday, the case for the prosecution was made. The court heard that in October 1993, Dean Jackson had jogged through the darkened streets of Lincoln, clutching a bottle of wine, to take advantage of a lonely and confused woman on anti-depressants; how he had earlier groped her and said that he loved her, and how he had finally managed to seduce her - at least partially, for he was too tired to perform after his jog.

Then he had seemed to shrug her off, but six weeks later on 30 November, when his wife was away, had invited her back to the darkened Deanery. Again, they had attempted sexual intercourse, she said, but afterwards, she felt scorned and used. His gesture of giving her pounds 10 for the taxi ride home seemed the last straw. She concluded that he had no real feelings towards her. Eventually she told another canon what had happened, and so the mills of justice began to grind across their lives.

A Consistory Court, which is hearing the case, usually decides on requests to alter, move or in some way change church buildings or churchyards.

Hearings about "conduct unbecoming a clerk in Holy Orders" are rare.

The last such high-profile case was the Rev Tom Tyler, vicar of Henfield, West Sussex, who was ordered out of his parish after being found guilty in 1990 of having an affair with a married parishioner. It is presided over by the Chancellor of the Diocese concerned, who must be an experienced barrister. The Chancellor is assisted by four assessors, two clergy and two lay, and together they must arrive at a unanimous decision.

The defence in the Lincoln case claims that Miss Freestone was lonely, and unhappy - so unhappy that she was on anti-depressants and had professional counselling for much of the year; and her accounts of what happened when she was alone with the dean are simply malicious or attention seeking fantasy.

"There is no room for compromise here", as David Stokes QC, for the prosecution, put it. Miss Freestone makes an unlikely scarlet woman. She has an unlikely air of stolid self-possession even when discussing sex. The court was told that she discussed an adventure with a coach driver at one of her early meetings with the dean.

She had been on a tour of the Lake District with her mother. On the last night, she had flirted with the coach driver. In her diary, which seems to be one of the main pieces of evidence for both sides, she had written: "An interesting evening. Or could have been!" Asked about the evening in court by Ann Rafferty QC, Dean Jackson's counsel, she said: "His intentions towards me were obvious, and that doesn't happen all that often."

Miss Rafferty said: "You told the dean, when you were speaking of the bus driver, that you were desperate for sex and regretted not having it?"

"I might have done. I can't remember." Miss Freestone replied.

The court is being held in the informal setting of a modern conference centre. Everyone sits close together, so that when Miss Freestone entered the court she was led behind the lawyers' benches, and so passed between Dean Jackson and his wife and a daughter, who had come to support him from the benches behind. They watched her with disgust and curiosity as she told the story of the wine bottle.

This empty bottle of Alsatian wine was produced in court and handed round. Dean Jackson is supposed to have brought it when he jogged to her house on the evening of 19 October; and he kept it, she said, for sentimental reasons.

Recalling the night, she said: "I was feeling extremely nervous and still quite shocked that he was there.

"His daughter was expecting a child at the time and she was having problems. He said that I had 'come-to-bed eyes', and that if he could have taken me to bed earlier, he would have done."

The Jackson women in the background mimed extreme incredulity at her. The testimony continued: "He held my hand, and he ... he then got up from the sofa and knelt down in front of me and he then started moving his hands gradually up my legs."

"Did you try to stop him?" Mr Stokes asked. She made a confused noise of dissent. "It was something that at the time felt that good, " she said.