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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Anglican Church Case Studies: Chichester/Peter Ball Investigation Report

B.8: The allegations against Gordon Rideout, Robert Coles and Jonathan Graves

Reverend Gordon Rideout


360. Gordon Rideout was ordained as a priest in 1962. He was then appointed as an assistant curate at a church in Sussex, where he remained until 1967. He often attended a nearby Barnado’s Children’s Home and, in his role as chaplain and mentor to its young people, indecently assaulted a number of boys and girls.

361. Rideout moved to an English army base in 1967, where he took up the post of chaplain in the church associated with the barracks. He was accused of sexual abuse by children during his time there but was acquitted after a court martial. Following his resignation in 1973, he returned to the Diocese of Chichester as a clergyman. He was later appointed as Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings. This was a senior role in which the archdeacon acted as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the bishop. He performed many duties and responsibilities on the bishop’s behalf, including Visitations to various parishes.[1]

362. In May 2013, Rideout was convicted of 36 offences of child sexual abuse involving 16 victims. These offences had taken place between 1962 and 1973. He was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. In December 2016, Rideout pleaded guilty to a further charge of indecent assault on a girl under the age of 16 years, for which he received an additional custodial sentence of nine months.

The evidence of AN‑A15

363. The Inquiry heard evidence from one of Rideout’s victims, AN‑A15. She shared a detailed account of her abuse, which began when she was 10 years old.

364. AN‑A15 lived with her parents on the army base where Rideout was a chaplain. She became acquainted with him through her attendance at Sunday school, choir practice and confirmation lessons. AN‑A15 described Rideout as “very touchy feely … he was always putting his arm around me or hand on my arm or my back or my bottom”.[2] This physical contact soon progressed to the touching of her breasts and genitals. He would also force AN‑A15 to touch his penis.[3]

365. AN‑A15 learned that two other girls in the choir had also been sexually abused by Rideout. The parents of one of these girls reported the abuse to the Royal Military Police. In 1972, Rideout was tried for these offences before a court martial. AN‑A15 told us that she found this a very intimidating experience. She was required to give her evidence at a “big D‑shape of tables with everyone in uniform and with their hats and everything”.[4] Rideout was in her direct line of vision throughout, which made her feel “absolutely terrified”.[5] At the conclusion of the court martial hearing, Rideout was acquitted of all charges.

366. In the years that followed, AN‑A15 suffered an emotional breakdown. She struggled to form trusting relationships and was unable to fulfil her academic potential. In 2013, AN‑A15 received a letter of apology from the Bishop of Chichester. She described the contents of this letter as “too little, too late”.[6] The Archbishops’ Council recognises that “for some survivors, apologies may sound or feel hollow”.[7]

Sussex Police investigation

367. The court martial proceedings, even in the context of the 1970s, attracted considerable media attention. Shortly afterwards, four victims reported to the Royal Military Police that they had been abused by Rideout at the Barnado’s home. They provided handwritten statements, yet for unknown reasons, no further action was taken. It is unclear whether these allegations were ever investigated by the military.[8] One of these victims complained again to Sussex Police in 2001, but the matter was marked as ‘no crime’ on the grounds that it had already been investigated by the Royal Military Police.[9] An allegation of child sexual abuse should not be dismissed solely on these grounds. The previous enquiries of the Royal Military Police should not prevent investigation of abuse in a children’s home, over which they have no jurisdiction.

368. In 2002, Sussex Police received yet another allegation that Rideout had indecently assaulted a teenage girl at the Barnado’s home in 1965. He was arrested and released on police bail. On 25 March 2002, Sussex Police concluded there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal prosecution.[10] Rideout’s fiancee had provided him with an alibi for the time of the alleged incident.

369. In a letter to Bishop John Hind on this topic eight years later, Bishop Wallace Benn remarked, “It is not surprising that the police took no further action”. He went on to make the irrelevant observation that “the children in the home were all from problem backgrounds”.[11]

370. Whilst police enquiries were still ongoing, Bishop Hind wrote a supportive letter to Rideout. He said “I think it goes without saying that you have my full confidence and I hope so much that everything will be soon resolved”.[12] In her report, Lady Butler‑Sloss criticised him for writing this letter. Bishop Hind acknowledged in evidence that he was unwise to make such remarks during the course of a live police investigation.[13]

Rideout’s permission to officiate

371. Despite his knowledge of allegations against Rideout, Bishop Hind appointed him as acting Archdeacon of Lewes and Hastings in 2004. This was a senior role within the Diocese and one that involved considerable responsibility. As the ‘eyes and ears’ of the bishop, he played an important role in child protection matters and in assessing whether parishes were following safeguarding advice.

372. Following his retirement two years later, Rideout was granted permission to officiate by Bishop Benn.[14] The diocesan bishop, area bishop and diocesan safeguarding adviser all knew of Rideout’s arrest and the court martial. Bishop Benn had even accompanied him to the police station in 2002.

373. Despite his knowledge, Bishop Hind chose not to conduct any risk assessment or internal review. No restrictions were attached to his permission to officiate, nor was a safeguarding file created. In addition, Mr Roger Meekings found “nothing of concern” in Rideout’s blue file during the 2008 Past Cases Review.[15] Bishop Hind insisted that he acted “according to the advice I was receiving from the safeguarding adviser”.[16]

374. Although the CRB scheme had been introduced in 2002, many retired clergy were still not being subjected to checks. In 2009, a new CRB clearance procedure was implemented in the Diocese. The area offices were required to inform Canon Ian Gibson of any blemishes on a CRB.[17] In September 2010, the full history of allegations against Rideout was exposed.

375. The senior management team, which included bishops, archdeacons and the diocesan secretary, was informed of the CRB result at a meeting in September 2010. A file note made by Canon Gibson shows that Bishop Benn approached Bishop Hind after this meeting. He asked Bishop Hind “if he could not disclose the information to the safeguarding adviser for the Diocese as ‘he is a friend and a much respected person’”.[18]

376. Bishop Hind said he was “shocked beyond measure” to receive this request.[19] To his credit, he refused to oblige and instead informed the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser. She referred the case to the Diocesan Safeguarding Advisory Group, which unanimously recommended that Rideout’s permission to officiate (PTO) be suspended with immediate effect.[20]

377. Bishop Hind’s response was to ask the Group to reconsider its advice, stating “I do not consider that suspension or withdrawal of PTO would be justified at this stage”. He relied on the historic nature of the allegations and the decision of the police to take no further action.[21] When the Group maintained its position, Bishop Hind finally accepted he had “no alternative but to suspend Gordon’s PTO pending a formal risk assessment”.[22] Following a risk assessment and further advice from the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser,[23] Rideout’s permission to officiate was permanently withdrawn in August 2011.[24]

378. In her addendum report, Lady Butler‑Sloss criticised Bishop Hind for his handling of the Rideout case. She specifically referred to his initial refusal to suspend Rideout’s permission to officiate, in accordance with the DSAG’s advice. Lady Butler‑Sloss found that this refusal was “likely to undermine the effectiveness of the Safeguarding Group” and would indicate “historic abuse allegations which had not been the subject of a criminal prosecution need not be treated seriously”.[25]

379. Bishop Hind recognised the validity of this criticism, along with the recommendation that the advice of the Safeguarding Advisory Group should always be taken seriously.[26] Lady Butler‑Sloss recommended that if senior clergy did not accept advice relating to allegations of abuse, written reasons should be recorded in the blue file. Regular training should also be provided for all clergy in the management of historic abuse allegations.[27]

380. This episode shows that both Bishop Benn and Bishop Hind were reluctant to take appropriate action against Rideout. Neither Bishop Benn nor Bishop Hind appear to have put his name forward during the Past Cases Review process, even though all senior office holders had been asked to identify those against whom allegations had previously been made.[28]

381. When Mrs Shirley Hosgood reviewed Rideout’s file in 2010, she located a 1998 Confidential Declaration Form. In this form, he had disclosed details of the court martial hearing and related allegations. Mrs Hosgood did not “think that Roger Meekings would have missed this information during his review of Blue Files for the Past Cases Review, if these documents were on the Blue File at the time of the review”.[29] She clearly implied that somebody had removed this form to prevent its discovery by Mr Meekings.

382. Although it is impossible for us to resolve this issue, we cannot exclude the possibility that the file was tampered with during 2008. However, it seems more likely to be due to error rather than deliberate concealment. There was a general failure to keep up‑to‑date records, particularly in respect of retired clergy.

Response of Bishop Bell School

383. In May 1997, Rideout became a governor of the Bishop Bell School in the Diocese of Chichester.[30] At the time of his appointment, the CRB check system did not exist. It came into force in March 2002.[31] Even after this date, it was not always considered that governors would require such checks.[32] It was not until late 2009 that the school began to obtain enhanced disclosures for its governors from the Criminal Records Bureau.

384. The head teacher, Mr Terry Boatwright, consequently discovered Rideout’s full history in May 2010. Six months passed before he disclosed this information to the Diocese, following Bishop Hind’s request for details of the school’s knowledge.[33] Mr Boatwright also believed that Rideout should remain Chair of Governors at the school. He said that he had discussed this issue with the local authority and the Diocesan Director of Education. His reasoning was that the court martial had resulted in an honourable acquittal and he did not know that the 2002 allegation had resulted in an arrest, simply that investigations occurred with no further action being taken. A member of the local authority governing services staff also informed the school that they did not need to take any further action.

385. Mr Boatwright’s position seemed to contradict the relevant safeguarding policy in place at the time, Safeguarding Children and Safer Recruitment in Education 2007. As the Department for Education confirmed to the Inquiry, this CRB disclosure should have indicated a cause for concern. The correct course of action was to immediately remove Rideout from the school, pending further enquiries into the various allegations.[34] Instead, Rideout continued to act as a governor until his resignation in November 2011.

386. Rideout’s resignation followed the agreement of the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser, East Sussex County Council local authority designated officer (LADO) and the Diocesan Director of Education that he should cease to be a governor of Bishop Bell School. However, because Rideout was not appointed by the Diocese, neither the Diocesan Board of Education nor the Bishop of Chichester had the authority to terminate his appointment. It was only possible to request that he resign.[35] The local authority alone had the power to terminate his appointment as governor. When Rideout finally tendered his resignation, some 18 months had passed since the full history of allegations came to light.

387. Rideout should have told the school about the 2002 police investigation under the general principles of safeguarding outlined in the Working Together guidance. His failure to do so was inexcusable.[36] The Diocesan Board of Education confirmed that neither Bishop Hind nor Bishop Benn advised them that a criminal investigation had taken place.[37] They should have done so, regardless of the non‑recent nature of the allegations and the fact that they had not led to a conviction. The board is part of the Diocese. The bishop is head of the Diocese. It was imperative that the information was passed to the school so that steps could have been taken, at the very least, to suspend Rideout during the 2002 investigation.

Reverend Robert Coles

Convictions for child sexual abuse

388. On 14 December 2012, Robert Coles pleaded guilty to 11 offences of child sexual abuse. This included seven counts of indecent assault and one count of buggery, all of which had taken place during the 1970s and 1980s. During this time, Coles was a parish priest in the Eastbourne area of the Diocese of Chichester.[38] The court sentenced him to eight years’ imprisonment.

389. In June 2015, Coles was convicted of two further counts of sexual assault on a male aged under 13 years. A consecutive term of 16 months’ imprisonment was added to his sentence.[39] During the hearing, the Crown Court Judge observed that there had been a number of diocesan failures in the handling of this case.[40]

The 1997 arrest of Robert Coles

390. In May 1997, Sussex Police received a complaint that Coles had sexually abused an altar server during the 1980s. At this time, Archdeacon Nicholas Reade was Coles’ rural dean. Coles told him that the alleged victim had stayed overnight at his house when he was 15 or 16 years old. Before going to bed, Coles “noticed the boy had thrown the sheets off and that his penis was erect”. According to Archdeacon Reade, Coles admitted he then “sat down on the boy’s penis” before retreating to his own bedroom. He also claimed “the boy had buggered him” but then insisted that no penetrative sex had taken place.[41]

391. Bishop Benn recalled meeting with Coles at the time of the police investigation. Coles “admitted sexual activity with a young man … Coles described the sexual act as ‘inappropriate fondling’ and said that it was a one‑off event and had not happened again”.[42] Archdeacon Reade arranged legal representation for Coles, and Bishop Benn accompanied him to the police station. He was interviewed under caution, during which time he made no comment to all questions. Coles was not prosecuted for the offence and no further action was taken by the police.

392. According to Assistant Chief Constable Laurence Taylor, this was because “there was no independent evidence and nothing to corroborate the victim’s account”.[43] Yet Coles had disclosed to both Archdeacon Reade and Bishop Benn that he was guilty of serious sexual offending against a child. Despite the severity of the admission, neither chose to inform the police. When questioned during this Inquiry, Archdeacon Reade declared that it “simply did not occur to me” that the police would not establish the full facts during their investigation.[44]

393. Having learned that Coles remained silent in interview and would not be charged with any offence, Archdeacon Reade should have informed the police of his disclosure. He had in his possession highly relevant evidence of guilt, which if known by the police would in all likelihood have altered the outcome of their investigation.

394. Archdeacon Reade attempted to justify his failure to alert the police by pointing out that Coles “never admitted rape”.[45] He also said that the Church was unable to take action under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 because it required a “very, very high standard of proof”.[46] When asked to explain why this would act as a barrier, given Coles had admitted criminal conduct, Archdeacon Reade’s response was, “What did he admit? … he admitted that there was no penetrative sex”.[47]

395. Archdeacon Reade failed to appreciate the gravity of what Coles disclosed, regardless of whether or not penetration occurred. Coles had admitted to the indecent assault of a child, yet it was not perceived to be criminal conduct. Archdeacon Reade was unapologetic, insisting he “told everybody that I should have told, including the diocesan bishop”.[48] Even 20 years later, he flatly refused to acknowledge or apologise for his gross error of judgement.

396. Archdeacon Reade claimed to have immediately informed the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser (DSA), although Mrs Hind’s daybook indicates this conversation did not take place until September 1997.[49] When she received the information, Mrs Hind did not inform the police. She “assumed that, since the bishop and archdeacon were in touch with the police, they would have done so”.[50] Bishop Benn excused himself from blame on the basis that “it was the responsibility of the DSA to make disclosures to the police ... it was not for me to do Mrs Hind’s job for her”.[51]

397. Archbishop Justin Welby told us he was horrified by what he described as an “extraordinary and atrocious willingness to turn a blind eye to things going very, very seriously wrong, and entirely damaging human beings for their whole lifetimes”.[52] He said that “it was someone else’s job to report it” was no excuse for an outright failure to report known abuse:

“That is not an acceptable human response, let alone a leadership response. If you know a child is being abused, not to report it is simply wrong.”[53]

398. It is indisputable that there was an absence of communication in the Diocese at this time. Discussions should have taken place between diocesan staff and the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser so as to be clear about (a) what had been said, (b) to whom, and (c) the further information that should have been passed to the police.

399. Of the three individuals, only Mrs Hind was prepared to accept some responsibility for her actions. She acknowledged she should have clarified the position with Bishop Benn and Archdeacon Reade, or alternatively made the police referral herself.[54]

400. Following the police investigation, Coles was not subjected to any risk assessment or disciplinary action by the Diocese.[55] He continued in ministry until August 1997, when he retired on the grounds of ill health.[56] He then joined a new parish in East Sussex. The Diocese did not inform the parish churchwarden or parish council that he had recently been investigated for child sexual abuse.

401. During his time in the parish, Coles was permitted to behave in ways that should have given rise to concern. He was recognised as someone who specifically befriended families with teenage boys. He regularly took those boys out for meals alone.[57] Despite being without permission to officiate, he took over 100 services at that parish between 1998 and 2002.[58]

402. Reverend Jonathan Graves was the priest in charge of the parish. Archdeacon Reade told him, “I have heard (and obviously the bishop has too) from other sources that he is from time to time operating”.[59] Given that exercising ministry without permission to officiate is a canonical offence, it is unclear why no steps were taken to investigate these rumours.

403. Instead, Archdeacon Reade wrote to Bishop Benn in April 1999. He suggested that Coles should have his permission to officiate reinstated, commenting “I believe the exercise of his priestly ministry is fundamental to Robert and I would hate him to grow into a bitter person because he was not able to do what he believed he was called to do”.[60] This was a telling remark. It suggested that his priestly ministry was viewed as more important than the safeguarding of children.

404. In 2001, Bishop Benn received reports from parishioners that Coles was exercising ministry without permission to officiate.[61] Graves had allowed him to take services. Bishop Benn telephoned him and stated that Coles must not be given any public ministry. Bishop Benn recalled that “strong words were exchanged”[62] during this conversation, after which he was “satisfied ... that I had sufficient promises to make sure it didn’t happen anymore”.[63]

405. The actions of Coles represented a flagrant breach of canonical law, as did the conduct of Graves. Neither individual was subjected to disciplinary action, nor were any further steps taken to ensure that such “promises” were being honoured. Graves’ behaviour was addressed by no more than a stern rebuke over the telephone.

406. In March 1999, Coles attended a school trip to Salzburg along with pupils from Bishop Bell school. This is extraordinary, given that disclosures of sexual activity with young men had been made to senior clerics. Archdeacon Reade reminded him that he must not celebrate the Eucharist during the trip. He said that the school was aware of a significant cloud over Coles, but he failed to notify the school of the earlier arrest. He should have done so, given that Coles would be engaging in unsupervised contact with its pupils over an extended period of time.

407. In 2002, Bishop Benn received a letter from a priest in another diocese. This detailed allegations by two men that they had been sexually abused by Coles as children.[64] Bishop Benn passed the letter to Mr Tony Sellwood, who was the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser at this time. Although faced with an emerging pattern of alleged abusive conduct, Mr Sellwood did not alert the police and no further action was taken. His failure to refer the matter to the relevant authorities was inexcusable.

408. Mr Colin Perkins opined that Robert Coles represented “the worst case for the diocese, the most serious case … a diocesan bishop, an area bishop, an archdeacon and two safeguarding advisers knew that he had admitted some of the matters about which he had been questioned … and none of them told the police”.[65] As the evidence demonstrates, the Diocese of Chichester put the interests of its clergy above the needs of children and young people.

Reverend Jonathan Graves

409. Before it transpired that Reverend Jonathan Graves was permitting Robert Coles to minister in his parish without a licence, Mrs Hind received an anonymous telephone call from a mother in the Lewes area. She said that Graves had engaged her 17‑year‑old son in inappropriate sexual conversations.

410. Mrs Hind contacted Archdeacon Reade. He told her that Graves had “a very fruitful ministry with the young, having boys in the house and giving them a lot of time”.[66] She asked Archdeacon Reade to speak to him, and to ensure that he did not have unsupervised contact with children in his house.

411. Mrs Hind told us that “with no allegation or named victim, it was impossible to do more than encourage Graves to follow good practice”.[67] It may have been preferable for Mrs Hind to speak to Graves herself, given that the comments of Archdeacon Reade hinted all may not be well, yet these obvious indicators of concern were not followed up. Although there was no evidence of a criminal offence, it was clearly worrying behaviour.

412. In 2005, a complainant reported to Sussex Police that he had been sexually abused by Graves during the 1980s. He was 11 years old at the time of the abuse. The complainant alleged that Graves had subjected him to masochistic sexual abuse, which included being tied up and whipped.

413. Graves was arrested and interviewed, yet the CPS declined to charge him.[68] The decision was based on a lack of corroborating evidence and the fact that the complainant suffered from mental health issues. A prosecution can properly proceed without corroborating evidence and in circumstances where a witness is mentally unwell. Without the underlying evidence and documentation, however, we cannot reach a conclusion about the correctness of this decision.

414. During the police investigation, Graves was granted permission to officiate in the Diocese of Chichester by Bishop Benn. According to the Butler‑Sloss report, Mr Sellwood knew of the complaint made to the police but did not pass the information to the bishop. This is reprehensible, given the nature and seriousness of the complaint. The Butler‑Sloss report determined that was a failure of communication between the Diocese, police and CPS regarding the 2005 investigation and decision not to prosecute.[69]

415. In 2008, an enhanced CRB disclosure revealed that Graves had been arrested. Mrs Hosgood arranged for him to undergo a risk assessment, during the course of which he disclosed that he was sexually aroused by humiliating acts with boys. He had asked an 11‑year‑old boy to urinate on his head for his sexual gratification.[70]

416. Graves was referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). At the time, this operated the process for barring individuals from working with children. His permission to officiate was withdrawn and, in October 2011, the ISA barred him from working with children or vulnerable adults. Had a risk assessment been undertaken in 2002 or 2003, it is probable that his offending would have been disclosed at an earlier time. In all likelihood, he would then have been removed from office or barred from working with children.

417. After a renewed investigation by Sussex Police, a number of other victims came forward. In September 2017, Graves was convicted of seven counts of indecent assault, two counts of indecency with a child and four counts of cruelty to a child. He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.[71]

418. The renewed police investigation became known as Operation Perry. To date, it was the largest criminal case involving non‑recent abuse within the Church of England. Operation Perry secured the convictions and imprisonment of all three perpetrators.


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