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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report

Contents

B.3: Evidence of abuse

8. In order to understand the nature and effect of child sexual abuse in religious organisations and settings, this investigation obtained evidence from a number of victims and survivors. In addition, the Crown Prosecution Service provided evidence of a number of criminal prosecutions for child sexual abuse in religious organisations and settings. We set out some examples below.

9. PR-A1 was 13 years old at the time of his alleged abuse. In the 1970s, he met the alleged perpetrator through a youth group associated with an independent Christian church. PR-A1 alleged that he was sexually abused by a member of the congregation for a year and a half, in his own home and the homes of others. The alleged perpetrator would perform oral sex on PR-A1 and encouraged PR-A1 to perform oral sex on her. The abuse ended after the alleged perpetrator was called to a meeting in the church in which the elders “berated” her about “aspects of her behaviour”. No one at the church spoke to PR-A1 about the abuse or reported it to the police, and PR-A1 stopped attending the church.[1]

10. In the 1970s, Andrew Roy was a prominent figure in an evangelical organisation connected to the United Reformed Church. Roy organised and ran Sunday school activities, including camps and trips. PR-A3 was abused by Roy from the age of seven until he was 10 years old, in PR-A3’s home and at Sunday school camp. PR-A3 did not disclose the abuse as a child because Roy told him that, if he did, it would upset PR-A3’s father and no one in the church would believe him. In 2017, Roy was convicted at Sheffield Crown Court of four counts of indecent assault and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.[2]

11. Mark Sewell was a ministerial servant in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, later becoming an elder.[3]

11.1. PR-A7 was abused by Sewell between the ages of 12 and 15. The abuse started with Sewell kissing PR-A7 with her mouth open and using his tongue. Sewell would sit PR-A7 on his lap, pull up her clothing and press his erect penis against her. On occasion, PR-A7 would stay at Sewell’s home. Sewell would get into bed with PR-A7 wearing only his underwear, and pull PR-A7 on to him. PR-A7 could feel Sewell’s erection. On one occasion Sewell forcibly removed PR-A7’s underwear. After the sexual abuse, Sewell would often say a prayer, during which PR-A7 was expected to sit quietly and join in with ‘Amen’.[4] On two occasions, when she was aged between 12 and 15, PR-A7’s parents approached Sewell with concerns about his behaviour towards their daughter – on both occasions, he told them that their daughter had “misunderstood”, as had they. They did not doubt his honesty because of his standing in the community. When PR-A7 was 16 years old, she disclosed her abuse to her parents, who reported it to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ elders. Three elders attended PR-A7’s home and she had to report what happened without any supportive adult present. At a subsequent meeting in the Kingdom Hall, PR-A7 had to recount her abuse before her father, three elders, Sewell and Sewell’s wife. Sewell accused PR-A7 of lying and produced statements from young men of the congregation about whether PR-A7 had kissed anyone with her tongue. The elders contacted the Britain Branch Office of Jehovah’s Witnesses for advice. In response the Branch Office replied that:

“the victim should consider going to the police or, if the victim did not want to, their parents should go to the police or the elders should search their consciences and consider whether they needed to go to the police.”[5]

PR-A7’s father, who was a congregation elder at the time, reported the allegations to the police. The police declined to press charges. PR-A7’s father also wrote to the Bethel, the Branch Office of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the UK, asking for assistance and reported the abuse by Sewell.[6] As a result, the regional elders became involved, and PR-A7 recounted her abuse to three further elders and a circuit overseer (in his car). A circuit overseer has spiritual responsibility for and provides guidance to a group of about 20 congregations. The circuit overseer is responsible for appointing elders and ministerial servants. PR-A7 was also interviewed by seven elders at a different Kingdom Hall. No further action was taken against Sewell.[7]

11.2. PR-A8 was also abused by Sewell. The abuse began when PR-A8 was 11 years old. Sewell began by kissing her on the lips and progressed to straddling her on a bed on the pretence that he was giving her a chiropractic massage. PR-A8 did not feel able to disclose her abuse. PR-A8 did not want to be labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’. PR-A8’s father alleged that he reported the abuse to the elders of the congregation but the elders who provided evidence in the case of BXB v Trustees of the Barry Congregation [2020] EWHC 156 (QB) say that no such allegation was made to them by PR-A8’s father about Sewell.[8]

Sewell was convicted in 2014 of child sexual offences and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment.

12. PR-A22, PR-A23, PR-A24 and PR-A25 were sexually abused by Mohammed Haji Saddique, a religious teacher who taught them the Qur’an at the Madina Mosque in Cardiff. The abuse occurred when they were aged approximately nine years old, between 1996 and 2001. All four reported that Saddique would touch their breasts and PR-A22 also reported that he touched her vagina. In 2017, Saddique was convicted and sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.[9]

13. The Inquiry heard evidence from Ms Sally Hirst of the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association about the abuse suffered by the children who lived and grew up within communes run by the Jesus Fellowship Church.

13.1. The Jesus Fellowship Church was established in the early 1970s and, in 1986, broke away from the Baptist Union and Evangelical Alliance. It was likened to a cult due to its structure and “extreme views, extreme teachings”.[10] There were approximately 2,000 members nationwide, the majority of whom lived communally with property, money, clothes and possessions shared.[11] Life within the Jesus Fellowship Church was “very insular and isolated from the outside world” and days were “very structured”.[12] Though children attended school, “Education wasn’t encouraged, particularly for girls”.[13] Those living within the commune and mixing with children often had extreme mental health needs or were violent criminals.[14] Those who tried to leave the Jesus Fellowship Church were “spoken ill of, cursed”, and were “prayed over very, very heavily by groups of men, rebuked in public, shouted at, screamed at”.[15] Ms Hirst told us:

“witnessing this as a child was highly traumatic and brought so much fear … that, if you left, awful things would happen to you.”[16]

13.2. Children experienced abuse that ranged from “extreme sexual assault to grooming, real quite extreme physical violence and inappropriate relationships, peer-to-peer abuse as well”.[17]

13.3. The allegations received by Northamptonshire Police included:

  • an alleged perpetrator put his hands down a child’s trousers during a bike ride;
  • a child was touched sexually while sitting on an alleged perpetrator’s lap;
  • a child was abused in the bathroom of their home by a strange man while a religious gathering was held in the home;
  • an alleged perpetrator put his hand up the skirt of a child while she was on a swing;
  • an alleged perpetrator put his hands up the shorts of a nine-year-old boy and groped him while engaging in “horseplay”;
  • a boy was anally raped between the ages of three and seven; and
  • a 14-year-old girl was orally raped by an adult male.[18]

13.4. It was “impossible” for children to disclose abuse within the Church because “they weren’t believed, nothing happened … Or the abuser would have been spoken to, prayed over, possibly moved to another house with other children”. It was seen as the children’s fault.[19] Children in the Jesus Fellowship Church were “taught to be very suspicious of outside organisations … If people did question or raise concerns, this was seen as a threat to the church”.[20]

13.5. In 2013, at the request of its insurers, the Jesus Fellowship Church publicly invited disclosures from anyone who had been abused or had witnessed abuse.[21] The disclosures were passed to Northamptonshire Police, which commenced Operation Lifeboat in 2014. Over six months, 11 suspects were arrested and seven were interviewed without arrest.[22] Seven suspects were tried for child sexual offences, which included buggery, indecent assault of a child and sexual assault. Six of those perpetrators were convicted of offences relating to 11 children.[23]

13.6. A further investigation by Northamptonshire Police remains ongoing into alleged failures within the Jesus Fellowship Church to protect vulnerable people under its care, including failures to report allegations of abuse.[24]

References

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