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The Chichester Child Abuse Scandal - Normalising the Abnormal

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Chichester is a beautiful and historic cathedral city located in the South-West, between the lively seaside town of Brighton, and the naval city of Portsmouth to the west.  For many that have visited Chichester, and Sussex more widely, they will be oblivious to the church scandal that has cast a dark shadow over this idyllic part of England. 

On 5th March, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) commenced a series of hearings into ‘Institutional responses to child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church’ using the Dioceses of Chichester as the focus of its case study.  It is safe to say what the inquiry heard was truly disturbing; not just in terms of the number of people involved, but also the duration of the abuse and level of corruption that went on to cover up the cases.  It was also deeply concerning the extent to which those involved sought to ‘normalise’ such behaviour – creating an increasingly slippery slope of depravity and wrongdoing.

A history of child sexual abuse spanning at least seven decades – what happened?

There have been several cases of the sexual abuse of children going back to the 1950’s, which have resulted in many Reverends and a Bishop within the Church of England Diocese of Chichester (which covers Sussex) being sentenced to prison.  The abuse has continued up to recent times, with Reverend Jonathan Graves being convicted of 12 offences and Reverend Gordon Rideout being sentenced in December 2016 for ten years’ imprisonment for the indecent assault of 16 victims from May 2013.

Allegations of systemic corruption and coverup

The above cases are shocking enough, but some in the Diocese of Chichester went much further to subvert the law and common decency.  During an independent review into historic cases of child sexual abuse in 2009, Roger Meekings, who carried out the investigation, found examples of deliberate purging of personnel files relating to those who had been accused of sexual misconduct towards children.  It was also suggested by a lawyer for some of the victims that senior figures within the Church of England had conspired to allow the ongoing sexual abuse of minors.  The solicitor, speaking at the inquiry stated[1]:

“We will hear in this Chichester inquiry of a culture in which the burning of paper files in the cathedral yard was tolerated, bishops ignoring past convictions and allegations was commonplace,' he said in his opening statement.

“We will hear of bishops granting permission to officiate certificates to convicted paedophiles and those facing criminal allegations. There is a strong suspicion of an organised conspiracy between clergy and bishops in the Diocese of Chichester to enable children to be abused, and it will be painful for all involved to hear”.

The current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, went further in 2013 by admitting that in relation to the case of Gary Johnson, a former choirboy, and his brother, who were sexually abused by Roy Cotton, who worked in the Diocese of Chichester in the 70’s, there had indeed been a cover-up.  Mr Warner wrote a private letter of apology to Mr Johnson, in which he stated clearly, “There has been deception and cover-up here[2]".  Roy Cotton was being investigated for the suspected abuse of at least ten children in Eastbourne. However, he died in 2006. 

Normalising the abnormal

A report by the Independent newspaper on 25th March 2018 points out a common thread which was at the root of why the sexual abuse in Sussex continued for so long – that is the ‘normalisation’ of the abuse[3].  According to the article, what enabled Bishop Peter Ball, Reverend Vickery House, Reverend Noel Moore, Reverend Roy Cotton, Reverent Pritchard, Reverend Robert Coles, Reverend Jonathan Graves, Reverend Gordon Rideout, Reverend Keith Denford, Reverend Christopher Howarth, Deacon Peter Pannett, and potentially many others, to commit their crimes across such a wide span of time, was the systemic lowering of morals and standards. 

John Hind, the Bishop of Chichester from 2002 to 2012 was quoted as stating during the IICSA inquiry, “abuse is not simply the act of some individual perpetrators, but actually it can involve collusion between different people, and that a climate can develop in certain areas in which people’s normal inhibitions against bad behaviour can get reduced. What is it that lowers those inhibitions? Well, one of them is clearly when you are in an environment in which a number of other people are abusing as well, and there can be a tendency to normalise what’s happening”.  This ‘normalising’ behaviour included supporting the accused more than the victims, and a culture of “wiping the slate clean” using the supposed Christian virtue of forgiveness. 

Another driving factor was thought to be the hard-line religious stance of Bishop Peter Ball, based on his belief that the church had ‘gone soft’.  He advocated self-punishment and strict discipline, which in the 1980’s led to the creation of religious communities which promoted such practices – and ultimately normalised abuse.

In summary

The complete findings of the IICSA inquiry won’t be known for some time.  What we do know is that Dr Martin Warner has a tough task on his hand, not only to stamp out such dreadful abuse from the ranks of the Church of England in his Diocese but to create a culture of trust, openness and honesty that has absent for over 70 years.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, IBB Claims can help you.  We have assisted many victims of abuse who have bravely stepped forward to have their case heard and to seek the justice they so richly deserve.  We treat all of our cases with the utmost discretion and privacy and will ensure that you are given the support you need while we progress your matter on your behalf.

At IBB, our personal injury team has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to seek compensation for sexual abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.





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