School challenged why priest stayed on as chair of governors despite arrest

Gordon Rideout
Gordon Rideout

Education officials are remaining tight-lipped as the row over how a former priest arrested on sex abuse allegations was allowed to continue as chair of governors at an Eastbourne school.

Questions have now been asked by a national organisation over how Canon Gordon Rideout remained as chair of governors at Bishop Bell School for up to a year after a blemished police check.

Mr Rideout was arrested in 2001 over allegations he sexually assaulted young people in Sussex and London but there was insufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

That arrest showed up in a CRB disclosure revealed to bishops in August 2010 and Mr Rideout was banned from being a minister in churches in September 2010.

But he was allowed to stay on as chair to the governors at the school in Priory Road until November last year.

Mr Rideout was arrested earlier this month along with fellow former Eastbourne priest Robert Coles over historic sex abuse which has brought the issue to the forefront and hit the headlines locally and nationally.

He will return to the police station in April.

The National Association for Adults Abused as Children has now asked executive headteacher Terry Boatwright under the Freedom of Information Act for all correspondence between the school, governors and any third party concerning the position of Gordon Rideout as chairman of governors of Bishop Bell School.

The FOI asks for all internal memos and emails within the school on the same subject; the minutes of all meetings of the board of governors or any sub-committee thereof at which the position of Gordon Rideout was discussed and all papers on the same subject provided to the governors in preparation for or during the course of those meetings.

The school has already said it will answer questions “in the fullness of time” but not at present as they do not want to hinder any police investigation.

Lucy Duckworth from the association said this week the Freedom of Information request had no bearing on any police investigation into Mr Rideout.

She said, “What the school and local education authority chose to do with the knowledge of the information disclosed on Rideout’s enhanced CRB will not affect his questioning.”

The school has 20 working days to provide the information but Mr Boatwright told the Herald this week, “I am concerned there is pressure from some to encourage us to say things which are outside of what is legal and, even worse, which could prejudice an ongoing investigation.

“There will come a time when we can correct factual errors, address misconceptions and answer questions.

“I am keen to be able to do that, but only when it is right to do so.”