Ex-altar boy cleared of murdering vicar, 81

A former altar boy was found not guilty at his re-trial today of murdering an elderly vicar he accused of sexually abusing him.

Christopher Hunnisett was alleged to have drowned 81-year-old Ronald Glazebrook in his bath at the flat they shared in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, in April 2001 and then cut him up.



Together with friend Jason Groves, Hunnisett, then aged 17, went on to scatter the retired clergyman's body parts at woodland locations across East Sussex.



A jury at Lewes Crown Court cleared Hunnisett, now 26, of murder and an alternative charge of manslaughter after more than six hours of deliberation.



The acquittal came eight years after he was found guilty of murdering his landlord Mr Glazebrook following a previous trial at the same court in 2002.



The Court of Appeal quashed the murder conviction earlier this year and ordered a retrial, at which Hunnisett introduced the new allegation that he had been sexually abused by the vicar.



Judge Mr Justice Keith told him: "You have been acquitted of the charges. You are free to go."



Hunnisett bowed his head and said: "Thank you."



The judge turned to Mr Glazebrook's daughter. sitting in the packed public gallery, and told her it must have been difficult to have heard her father's name "tarnished" during the re-trial.



He told the court: "This must have been a trying few weeks for her as she has heard her father's reputation tarnished.



"He may well have behaved shamefully in his life and he may well have been a discredit to the clergy but she must be desperately unhappy during the trial and I want her to know that."



Hunnisett was greeted with hugs by relatives outside the courtroom but politely declined to comment on his acquittal.



The trial heard that Mr Glazebrook was an active "independent spirit" who helped many people with their problems, including Hunnisett, who came to know him through Christ Church in St Leonards-on-Sea.



Mr Glazebrook offered Hunnisett lodgings at his ground-floor flat in Dane Road, St Leonards-on-Sea, after learning of the teenager's problems while living at home.



Hunnisett was given a free run of the flat, which had internet access, as well as use of the vicar's boat, the Sulis, which was moored in Newhaven Harbour.



But prosecutor Philip Katz QC said the arrangement broke down to the extent that Mr Glazebrook wanted Hunnisett out of his home, something of which he was aware.



Hunnisett said Mr Glazebrook died after he punched him while he was having a bath after the vicar touched him inappropriately.



He told the jury that the clergyman entered the bathroom in his pyjamas without knocking and sat on the rim of the bath before telling him he loved him.



Hunnisett said that, when the vicar touched his inner thigh, he punched him as hard as he could, causing him to fall on top of him in the bath.



He told jurors: "He basically wanted me to show that I cared in return and he ended up at some point putting his hand on my leg, on the inner thigh of my left leg.



"I hit him. It was a twisting sort of punch. It was as hard as I could at the time. I hit his head and the force of it carried him into the bath and over. He came in head-first.



"At some point he was kind of on top of me. I struggled with him to get myself out from underneath him."



He claimed he struggled with Mr Glazebrook before freeing himself from underneath him and getting out of the bathroom and fleeing to his bedroom.



Hunnisett told jurors he "didn't care" what condition his elderly landlord was in in the bathroom and said he found him dead in the bath the following morning.



He said the incident on April 27 2001 was not the first time the vicar had touched him inappropriately. He said he was also abused on the vicar's boat and on other sailing ventures.



"It was disgusting and gross and I didn't want people to think of me like that," he told the court. "I was afraid that he was going to tell people about it."



The court heard of other earlier allegations of abuse by Mr Glazebrook.



One man said he was abused in similar circumstances to Hunnisett on sailing adventures while he was a church server in the 1940s.



Like him, Hunnisett first met Mr Glazebrook at the age of 12 while he was a church server.



As they grew to know each other, he was asked by the clergyman to help with odd jobs around his home, including gardening, cleaning and decorating.



Hunnisett said he was 15 when he started living with the vicar after experiencing difficulties at home, and said they had shared interests, such as sailing.



But he went on: "The first few days were OK, then it sort of changed. There was another incident - him coming into my room, basically. I was kind of freaked out by it."



Hunnisett said he grew to "hate" the clergyman and that they argued more, with Mr Glazebrook refusing to allow him to have friends round.



He said he would lie down during the abuse and pretend it was not happening, and resorted to placing his bed in front of the bedroom door at night.



He told the court he would stay out as late as possible and only come back when he felt Mr Glazebrook would be asleep.



Hunnisett added that he would take baths at night-time in a further attempt to avoid him and told the court he eventually confided in a friend about what was going on.



"Whereas I had held my anger in before, I started to fight back against bullies," he added.



"I started thinking how much I hated him and I realised how much trouble I had got into by reaching that stage."



He told the court there was no pattern to the abuse, saying there would be times when Mr Glazebrook would strike twice in a week and then there would not be anything for a month.



But Mr Katz said Hunnisett was introducing a "wholly unlikely story" at his re-trial and any suggestion of sexual abuse was never raised at his original murder trial.



"Throughout the entirety of the first trial in 2002, this defendant specifically denied that there was anything sexual about his relationship with the Rev Glazebrook," said Mr Katz.



"However, as the Crown understands it, the position has changed. Now he is going to say that he was sexually abused by the Rev Glazebrook and the death of the Rev Glazebrook arose out of an occasion where he was being sexually abused."



Mr Katz said Hunnisett and Groves pleaded guilty to preventing the lawful and decent burial of a dead person and were sentenced for that charge in 2002.



Detective Inspector Carwyn Hughes, of Sussex Police's major crime branch, said: "We respect the verdict of the jury who accepted Christopher Hunnisett's new defence.



"We note that neither of the police investigations - the initial one in 2001 and the one leading to this trial - were criticised in any way.



"Our thoughts are also with the family of Ronald Glazebrook, who have endured this second trial with calm and impressive dignity."

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