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Jesus Fellowship's children 'at risk of abuse'

Website: Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Date: 12/05/2010
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Children living in Jesus Fellowship communities in Northamptonshire are "plainly at risk of abuse" unless the organisation changes its child protection systems, a judge has said.

Judge Charles Wide QC was speaking after the conviction of a former volunteer gardener at the religious group, who was found guilty of three counts of indecent assault and one of sexual assault against young boys who were part of the Jesus Fellowship community in Pattishall.

The man, aged 63, of Mulliner Street, Coventry, had a string of previous convictions before infiltrating the Jesus Fellowship in 1996.

At Northampton Crown Court on Monday he was convicted of assaulting three boys aged younger than 11 after offering sweets and bribes.

Judge Wide QC said: "He is an absolutely relentless paedophile. He worked his way into the Jesus Fellowship to abuse children."

The man, who has previous convictions for sexual offences against boys in Scotland, was employed at the community house as a gardener and grave digger when he is alleged to have sexually assaulted the boys in the cellar.

A jury returned a unanimous guilty verdict on Monday after the man denied the charges against him. The accusations all related to abuse which took place in the late 1990s.

Judge Wide QC urged the Jesus Fellowship to review its child protection procedures as a result of the case, during which police officers established volunteers within the community did not undergo Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks before working with children.

He said: "These children are plainly at risk of abuse unless something is done about it."

Sentencing was adjourned to allow further reports into the man's offending to be carried out. He will learn his fate at a hearing in June, and was remanded in custody in the meantime.

John Campbell, speaking on behalf of the Jesus Fellowship after the case, said the organisation "deeply regretted" the man being allowed to work at the community.

He said: "We have worked with social services and the police in the past to try to make sure our child protection policies are up at the top level. Things went wrong here.

"This man was meant to be reporting to police but he had given them the slip. We didn't know about his offences in Scotland - nobody knew that he wasn't supposed to be working with children - and unfortunately he developed contact with them, which wasn't what was meant to happen at all."

Mr Campbell said the organisation's child protection policies had been tightened up considerably since the incident and the fellowship welcomed new regulations due to come in this year allowing it to check people more thoroughly.