Eastbourne priest trial: Children as young as seven were assaulted in home, court hears

Canon Gordon Rideout
Canon Gordon Rideout

A retired Eastbourne priest has gone on trial accused of multiple counts of sexual abuse at a children’s home in the 1960s.

Canon Gordon Rideout, 74, is alleged to have committed 30 indecent assaults and two attempted rapes when he was assistant curate at St Mary’s Church, Southgate.

The complainants, ten woman and four men, were child residents of a Crawley children’s home at the time of the alleged assaults.

Mr Rideout, of Filching Close, Polegate, is also accused of one indecent assault in Essex, and a further three against two victims in Hampshire.

He denied all 37 counts at Lewes Crown Court on Monday (April 8).

Rideout is a former chair of governors at Bishop Bell School in Eastbourne and was also chair of the trustees at St Wilfrid’s Hospice for a number of years.

Mr Philip Bennetts QC, prosecuting, told the court Mr Rideout would wander the home’s grounds and visit dormitories unaccompanied during the early sixties.

The home was described as a brutal regime where children were taught to behave by beatings from the superintendent, known as ‘Uncle Hutch’, Mr Bennetts said.

One girl claims she was assaulted by Mr Rideout when she was around seven-years-old in the cellar of the home.

When she ran away and told Uncle Hutch what happened she said he washed her mouth out with soap and hit her ‘really hard’, Mr Bennetts said.

Another girl said she was 14 and ill in bed with flu when Mr Rideout assaulted her.

When she threatened to report Mr Rideout he is said to have told her: “Tell Uncle Hutch and you’ll get what you deserve, another beating”.

When asked by police why she didn’t report the abuse she said: “Too scared... the beatings were so much worse than what that man [Rideout] was doing. The beatings were absolutely terrible.”

Another girl said she was thrown against a wall and suffered a broken rib after reporting a sexual assault, Mr Bennetts said.

On another occasion she threatened to scream as Mr Rideout assaulted her.

The woman told police: “He said I was a horrible child and I would be condemned for the rest of my life and if I said anything God would strike me down.”

During a police interview after his arrest on March 6 2012 Mr Rideout said he was ‘shocked and amazed’ at the allegations and told police: “I’m denying them”.

Mr Rideout admitted visiting the home once a week and staying overnight in a guest room but denied ever visiting girls’ dormitories, Mr Bennetts said.

He told police he was a ‘touchy feely person’ added: “I would hug, I may have kissed, I may have rubbed a leg. You know, when somebody stood by you, you just rub them”.

The trial is expected to last eight or nine weeks and will include video interviews and testimony from 17 complainants with some to give evidence behind a screen or via video-link.

The trial continues.