Sussex

Chichester vicar jailed for 'this is what God wants' abuse

Meirion Griffiths Image copyright Sussex Police
Image caption Meirion Griffiths emigrated to Australia in 1988

A former vicar who sexually abused a woman and a girl, who he told "it was what God wanted", has been jailed for eight years.

Meirion Griffiths, 81, was convicted of four counts of indecent assault last month following a six-day retrial.

He had moved to Perth in Australia from Chichester, in West Sussex, but was extradited to the UK to face justice.

Sentencing him, the judge at Portsmouth Crown Court said Griffiths' actions were an "enormous breach of trust".

Judge Roger Hetherington described the effects on the two "highly-impressionable, naive and innocent" victims as "devastating".

Griffiths was a Church of England vicar at St Pancras Church in Chichester at the time of the offences.

He was found guilty of two counts of indecent assault against teenager Julie Macfarlane - who has waived her right to anonymity - during the mid-1970s, one of them involving multiple occasions.

She told the BBC she was 16 when she went to Griffiths to discuss doubts about her faith.

"That was when the first of what was a year-long of sexual assaults happened," she said.

Image caption Julie Macfarlane waived her right to anonymity to speak out against Griffiths

Griffiths was also convicted of two counts of indecent assault against a woman in her mid-20s in 1982.

He was found not guilty of two counts of indecent assault, one against each of the women.

Prosecutor Richard Witcombe said Griffiths, who was married with two children, targeted Ms Macfarlane who attended bible classes and social groups at his church.

The court also heard Griffiths abused her while teaching her to drive and during trips to the beach he took off all his clothes while swimming.

"As a result of gaining her trust, he was able to abuse her... telling her it was what God wanted," Mr Witcombe said.

'Who would believe me?'

Speaking after the hearing, Ms Macfarlane recalled how her mother would say: "It's so kind of the minister to offer you driving lessons, you must go with him."

"He would find a place, you know, a deserted lane, a beach, a cornfield in one case, different places where there was nobody around, and again he would force himself upon me," she said.

Speaking in court, Ms Macfarlane described herself as a "chaste" teenager and said she had trusted Griffiths because he was a "man of God".

"Who would believe me? He was a minister who held a position of authority," she added.

Image caption Griffiths was a vicar at St Pancras Church at the time of the offences

A statement from the second victim read to the court described how she attempted to commit suicide during the abuse and continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"The abuse has caused profound irreparable damage and intense ongoing trauma," she said.

"He knew I was vulnerable but despite this he used his position to control my life."

In a statement, the Diocese of Chichester said both victims had showed "great courage in coming forward".

Expressing its "deep sense of sorrow", it added: "All cases of sexual abuse are a great betrayal.

"Where it has happened, it must be brought into the light so that justice can be done."

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