David and Valerie Dallimore won an unreserved apology in the High Court from the Rev Arthur Rowe, the retired rector of St James's Church in Hockwold, Norfolk, who had claimed that their daughter was sexually abused during "devil- worship" rituals.
Rebecca Dallimore, now 26, has not been seen by her parents since she left home in July 1993. Her parents say she was brainwashed by Mr Rowe's "charismatic" preaching and have accused the church of acting like a cult.
In a statement, Mr Rowe apologised "unreservedly" for an article published in a local newspaper in 1994, which repeated accusations Rebecca is said to have made to the rector.
Mr Rowe, who resigned as rector of St James's two years after the allegations came to light, said: "I apologise unreservedly for the fact that a number of accusations made by Rebecca Dallimore (which were not substantiated in any way whatsoever on investigation by the police) received publicity as a result of an article published in the Lynn News following an interview of me by that publication which I did not seek or encourage."
Mr and Mrs Dallimore also won an apology from Emap Anglia Newspapers Ltd, who published the article. There was no payment of damages.
Outside the courtroom, Mrs Dallimore, 49, said: "We are glad that Arthur Rowe has now apologised and we would ask our daughter to contact us because we don't blame her for anything that has happened."
Graham Baldwin, from the charity Catalyst, which helps people damaged by religious groups and has supported the Dallimores through their libel action, said: "They (the Dallimores) were arrested and accused of satanic abuse and for three months had these allegations hanging over their heads. The police said that all the allegations were totally unsubstantiated but Arthur Rowe then gave this interview to the newspaper. It was outrageous.
"For five years the Dallimores have not seen their daughter. The Anglican church has done nothing to help. It has behaved appallingly."
He added: "There have been a growing number of problems around the Anglican church involving charismatic priests... when you go to them [the church] for help they just pull down the shutters. If you talk about suing them they say, `The priests aren't employed by us, they are employed by God'."
Mrs Dallimore, a hospital worker, told a tabloid newspaper that the apology was a "hollow victory". She said: "They put those ridiculous thoughts in her head and took her away from us. I will never think we have properly won until Rebecca is back."
Speaking of the ordeal when police investigated her and her husband, she reportedly said: "It was a total shock... I just could not believe it when the police told me what my husband and I were supposed to have done. It was only when they started asking if we had a black tablecloth and a devil's mask that we realised what was going on."
The Dallimores had moved to Norfolk from Surrey shortly before their daughter took an interest in the church. She was 19 and had learning difficulties.Reuse content