Priests’ arrests follow confidential report into church sex abuse

Robert Coles
Robert Coles
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GORDON RIDEOUT, a former rural dean who spent 25 years as a vicar at All Saints in Carlisle Road, is suspected of sexually assaulting nine young people between 1965 and 1972 in Crawley, London and Hampshire.

It was also revealed this week that several allegations were made to police in 1972 against Mr Rideout and again in 2001, but although he was arrested, there was not sufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

Gordon Rideout

Gordon Rideout

Mr Rideout conducted services at All Saints Church until 2010.

He was also chaplain at Moira House Girls School until 2003 and chair of governors at Bishop Bell School.

In the 1960s he was a chaplain at two Barnado’s homes in London.

Robert Coles is suspected of sexually assaulting three young men in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, and police say he too was arrested when an allegation was made to police in 1997 but there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

Other allegations have only recently emerged as a result of the current enquiry.

Mr Coles was the priest in charge at St Philip’s Church before it was knocked down to make way for a block of flats on the corner of St Philip’s Avenue and Whitley Road.

Police also revealed this week that the arrests came after receipt last year by the Diocese of Chichester and Sussex Police of a confidential review by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss into historic allegations of sexual abuse by Church of England priests against young people in Sussex and elsewhere.

The man leading the inquiry, Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes, said Sussex Police had decided to re-examine several of the historic allegations referred to in the confidential report which had led to the arrests. He said the offences were allegedly committed at different times and in different places from each other.

“Although they have been arrested on the same day, the cases against the two men are being treated as separate enquiries at this stage,” said Det Ch Insp Hughes.

“The re-investigation of these cases has taken six months.

“This is a very complex enquiry, in the course of which many people, all now adults, have had to be traced, together with other witnesses and records from a wide variety of sources.

“There are no allegations of recent or current offending and police emphasise that there is nothing to suggest that any children are currently at risk.

“The Diocese of Chichester is co-operating fully with police.

“Although the cases referred to are still under police investigation, Sussex Police make it clear that the force will always take seriously any allegations of historic sexual offending, and every possible step will be taken to investigate whenever appropriate.”

The arrests also follow ongoing church inquiries into Bishop Wallace Benn, the Bishop of Lewes, who lives in Eastbourne and is facing disciplinary action for alleged safeguarding mistakes.

It also coincides with an investigation ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury into child protection failings in churches in Sussex.

As news of the arrests hit the national headlines, the Right Reverend Mark Sowerby, acting Bishop of Chichester, said, “I can assure the public that the two people who have been arrested were not in licensed ministry recently and the cases are of a historic nature.”

Chief Inspector Jayne Dando, the district police commander for Eastbourne, said on Wednesday she wanted to offer support to the town’s community in light of the arrests.

“We have a strong Christian community in the town and these events will not only impact upon them, but the wider community in Eastbourne,” she said.

“I truly value the strong partnerships that exist in Eastbourne and the impact this working together has on the lives of many.

“The Christian community is an integral part of this working together and I would urge us all to reflect on the amount of good work that is done in this town by many.”

A special helpline has also been set up for anyone needing support or advice and is manned by staff at the NSPCC.

It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and police say calls will be handled sensitively and confidentially and, where appropriate, callers will be referred to specially trained police officers and, if required, a range of local counselling services, which are ready to offer expert support to those who come forward.

The helpline number is 0800 389 5344.