THE RECTOR OF STIFFKEY
|HAROLD DAVIDSON | the centre of a Stiffkey scandal|
Harold Davidson, the Rector of
Stiffkey in Norfolk was perhaps better known as the Prostitutes' Padre.
He was thrown out of the Church for immoral behaviour in the 1930s.
But was he the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice?
Seventy years after the rector's disgrace, his family
are launching a new campaign to clear his name.
Tucked away in the dusty files, new evidence is emerging
that casts doubt on his convictions.
|"I think today, Harold would not be convicted."|
|Reverend John Penny|
Rector Harold Davidson led a double life. As well as
his congregation in Stiffkey, he commuted to Soho where he ministered
to a rather different flock.
These were down and outs and prostitutes, who he had
helped for years.
The commuting Rector ran into trouble when he was late
arriving back from soul-saving in Soho for the annual Remembrance Day
service. The Bishop of Norwich was incandescent with rage.
Doubting the reason for his Soho visits, the Bishop's
lawyer had a private detective agency crawling round country lanes and
peering into Soho café windows for signs of Harold and girls of
quiet village church|
The Bishop's detectives uncovered little information
that could be used against Harold.
Analysis of the trial transcripts reveals that of 40
girls that were questioned, only one had a bad word to say about him and,
at the time, she was bribed with money and alcohol. When she sobered up,
Nevertheless, Harold was charged with five counts of
immoral behaviour, which included embracing a girl in a Chinese restaurant.
The Bishop's star witness in the sensational trial was
a 17-year-old prostitute named Barbara Harris.
But now the Rector's granddaughter, Kathryn Collier,
has discovered evidence never presented at the trial, which challenges
Barbara's damning testimony.
Kathryn says, "These are letters from the Rector
to Barbara, which show absolutely perfectly that he was just simply taking
care of her as he always claimed."
was the Bishop's star witness|
Kathryn showed Inside Out a number of letters signed
"your sincere friend and padre", written to a girl who claimed
in court she never even knew he was a priest.
Inside Out managed to obtain another letter which was
allegedly penned from Barbara to the Bishop. It contained 14-pages of
lurid allegations against Harold.
Interestingly, the hand-writing and signature on this
incriminating letter are noticeably different to others from Barbara.
Now, Harold has a surprising new ally. None other than
the present priest at Stiffkey, the Reverend John Penny. He is the first
churchman to speak out in support and he wants the case reopened.
"I think most people realise now that Harold had
a raw deal. I think that the evidence that's coming out shows more and
more that the way the prosecution was handled, left out material which
should have been presented.
"I think that today Harold would not have been convicted."
Jonathan Tucker, who is writing a new book about the
Rector says, "I've gone through the evidence of the trail
what I have pieced together I think that he was a genuinely decent man.
Perhaps a little naive."
Kathryn Collier |
Colin St. Johnson is the Rector's grandson. As well as
recently paying for his grandfather's grave to be cleaned, he says the
Church should come clean too.
"I have written to the Arch Bishop, but I haven't
had any satisfactory answers at all. They say 'oh, it's too long ago,
he had a fair hearing'. Well he didn't.
"The successors of the people who stitched him up
don't want to have anything to do with him."
Life became much worse for Harold, following his banishment
from the Church. In an attempt to raise money for an appeal, he exhibited
himself in a barrel at Blackpool.
He then joined a fair to preach from the lion's den.
Sadly he trod on the lion's tail, which was how he met his end.
Seventy years after his funeral, his epitaph reads, "He
was loved by the villagers who recognised his humanity and forgave him
his transgressions. Rest in peace".