Ex-Church of England priest Keith Wilkie Denford and organist Michael Mytton guilty of string of child abuse offences

 

A retired Church of England priest and a former organist and choirmaster have been found guilty of a string of child sex abuse offences dating back more than 25 years.

A judge said that Father Keith Wilkie Denford and Michael Mytton had committed "a grave breach of trust and a gross breach of trust".

Prosecutors said Denford, 78, used the respectability of the cassock to groom and abuse two boys over an 18-month period from when they were aged around 13.

On one occasion he got into a bath with one of the boys while aroused. On another he pressed himself up against a boy intimately with the words: "How nice it is to have a cuddle."

But Denford, who was the vicar at St John the Evangelist Church in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, was found not guilty of abusing one of the boys aided by organist and choirmaster Mytton, 69, in the back of Mytton's Jaguar.

Denford and Mytton, known as Mark, had denied all the charges.

Following a two-week trial at Hove Crown Court, Denford, of Broad Reach Mews, Shoreham-by-Sea, was today found guilty of three counts of indecent assault against two boys between January 1987 and January 1990 and cleared of one count of the same charge.

Mytton, of South Road, East Chiltington, East Sussex, was cleared of one count of aiding and abetting indecent assault and cleared of two counts of indecent assault.

He was convicted of three counts of indecent assault relating to a third boy when the victim was in his early teens between September 1992 and September 1994.

Adjourning sentencing for pre-sentence reports until May 2, Judge Paul Tain told the pair: "The matter that you will be sentenced for on May 2 represents a grave breach of trust and a gross breach of trust.

"There is no question at all that a conventional sentence would be custody. However, respective counsel both want to argue that, for particular reasons, the court's power to suspend can be applied to the case."

The judge freed Denford and Mytton on bail but said that they should be under the "clear understanding" that he reserved the right to impose an immediate jail sentence next month.

Prosecutor Marcus Fletcher said during the trial that one of Denford's two victims recalled blowing the whistle about the abuse to a vicar - but nothing was done.

In the end, it was not until last year that police were alerted after one of the boys, now in his late 30s, found out that Denford was still in contact with children.

Through police investigation, the name of a third boy emerged and he disclosed that he suffered abuse at the hands of Mytton from around 1990 to 1994 when he was aged 10 or 11.

He told investigators that he once accompanied Mytton to a dinner party as his "plus one". The boy also told investigators that Mytton would suck his nipples, and refer to them as Mr Lefty and Mr Righty.

Mr Fletcher told jurors: "What that shows is that there was an understanding between Mr Denford and Mr Mytton that they would talk about young men in their company. They obviously know something about each other's interests."

In a police interview after being arrested, Denford told officers the allegations were "lies, absolute lies" and described the claims as "complete fantasy".

Mytton told police that he was "not really" attracted to children. But when pressed, Mr Fletcher said he told officers: "They are lovely...there is so much beauty...as long as you don't let it take over."

The jury was told that in 1981 Mytton was convicted of two counts of gross indecency on a 12-year-old boy, forcing Mytton to leave his position at a church in Uckfield.

He told officers following his arrest on the latest claims: "I like boys. If I was a straight gay, life would be a lot easier. I like boys, I know I like boys and it has cost me everything."

However, Mytton denied having sex with the boy but conceded that he was "fond" of him and kept pictures of him.

On whether he thought Denford would sexually abuse boys, Mytton replied: "No, I'm astonished and angry. I cannot believe that he would do that and I don't think he would have done that."

Mytton said he never talked about his sexual preferences with Denford and that the pair would speak about music and religion instead.

He told police that he knew that the gross indecency he was convicted of in 1981 was "wrong" but that it had not been repeated.

Denford and Mytton are the two latest figures linked to the scandal-hit Diocese of Chichester to be convicted of historic child sex abuse offences.

In February, retired priest Robert Coles, 71, was jailed for eight years at Brighton Crown Court after he admitted abusing young boys dating back to the 1970s.

Coles, of Upperton Road, Eastbourne, pleaded guilty to buggery and four indecent assaults on one victim and three indecent assaults against two other boys.

The offences took place in West Sussex and elsewhere in the late 1970s and early 1980s against boys aged between 10 and 16 at the time.

Coles' conviction led the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to issue a statement saying he was "appalled" by the case and he apologised for the "betrayals and failings" that occurred.

In 2011, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, set up an official inquiry into the Diocese of Chichester's child protection policies.

He appointed Bishop John Gladwin and Chancellor Rupert Bursell QC to conduct the inquiry, launched "in response to concerns within the diocese".

Before his enthronement as archbishop last month, Mr Welby said the diocese was in the midst of a "new era" under the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner.

Following Denford and Mytton's convictions, Dr Warner said: "I note the verdict reached by the court today and we will now move swiftly to implement our own disciplinary procedures following this verdict in the case of Mr Denford.

"The Diocese fully acknowledges the suffering caused both to survivors of abuse and their families.

"We deeply regret the betrayal of trust in the context of public pastoral ministry and we extend our prayers and support to those caught up in the events highlighted by this case.

"The Diocese has learned many lessons from past cases and continues to do so.

"Our safeguarding procedures have been revised and updated and I am committed to ensuring that every person is safe in our church communities.

"Once again I would like to place on record our indebtedness to the police for their thorough and professional work in bringing about a conclusion to these events and for their co-operation in all matters."

Following the case, Detective Constable Lee Scott, of Sussex Police, said: "During the investigation we had full co-operation from the Diocese of Chichester.

"We admire the courage of the victims in coming forward and being ready to stand up in court.

"Sussex Police takes all reports of sexual offences extremely seriously, no matter when they are alleged to have happened."

PA

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