Former vicar jailed over sex offences

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The Independent Online

A former vicar jailed for possessing thousands of child porn images was sent to prison for another 14 months today after admitting a string of further sex offences.

Richard Hart, 61, of Beguildy, near Knighton, Mid Wales, admitted nine counts of sexually assaulting a schoolgirl just days before he was due to be released from prison.

The father-of-five and former priest in charge of four south Powys parishes "had a deep-seated and spurious interest in children", Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court heard.

Hart also admitted one count of inciting a child to commit an act of gross indecency.

He was charged with the offences, relating to a prolonged period starting in April 2000, while in prison in March.

The court heard he was due to be released from prison on June 3 after serving part of a three-and-a-half-year jail term imposed in September 2008.

The disgraced former vicar had previously admitted possessing almost 57,000 indecent images of children on his home computer.

Cardiff Crown Court heard at the time that he had collected the images "like a magpie" over a 17-year-period.

Prosecutor Ieuan Morris told the court then that "beneath the respectability there was a perverted craving and lusting for young girls."

Hart indecently assaulted the girl, who was not a member of his parish, while he was still an ordained priest, the court heard today.

In a police interview, the former Sunday school teacher said it was "just playing around" but admitted what he did would be considered inappropriate.

Mr Morris said today: "He stockpiled an abundance of photos for the purposes of his own sexual gratification.

"He downloaded on to his home computer over 56,000 pornographic images of children aged between four and 15 years - a figure that, quite frankly, defies comprehension."

The court heard that he would look at some of the images with his wife Julia before they had sex together.

Mr Morris said there was no suggestion that Mrs Hart knew of her husband's activity with the child.

At a previous hearing, Hart pleaded not guilty to three counts of indecent assault on a child and three of inciting a child to commit an act of gross indecency, all of which are to lie on file.

Hart was suspended from the Church in Wales when his offending first came to light and was later deposed from holy orders, John Ryan, defending, said.

Hart was also removed as chairman of the governors at a local school.

Mr Ryan said: "He has done well in a rolling sex offender programme.

"He recognised he needs to improve his emotional intelligence and the difficulties he had in dealing appropriately with others."

He said Hart had two autistic sons and turned to pornography to cope with the stress.

Sentencing, Judge Peter Heywood said: "These are serious offences and I would not be carrying out my duty if I did not impose an immediate custodial sentence."

He added that he did not consider Hart to be dangerous and told him he would serve seven months in prison.

He extended his licence period for four years.