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Retired priest Robert Coles jailed for sexually abusing boys

image captionRetired priest Robert Coles admitted 11 charges of sexual offences against under-age boys

A retired Church of England priest from East Sussex has been jailed for eight years for sexual offences against three boys aged between 10 and 16.

Robert Coles, 71, of Upperton Road, Eastbourne, pleaded guilty to 11 charges of abusing boys in West Sussex, Devon, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight.

Brighton Crown Court was told the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to proceed with seven other charges.

The judge ordered the seven other charges to lie on the court file.

The court heard former parish priest Coles, who also worked in Horsham, pleaded guilty at a hearing on 14 December to five charges against one victim and three against each of the other two.

He was jailed for five years for the offences against the first boy and for indecent assaults on his other victims, he received two terms of 18 months. All sentences will run consecutively.

'Systems failed'

The court heard Coles disclosed he had sexually abused one of the children to senior clergy, including the then Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, but the information was not passed on to police.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he was "appalled" by the case.

"The systems designed to protect the survivors clearly failed, their vulnerability was taken advantage of, and their lives have been deeply and in some cases permanently affected, as have the lives of those who love them," he said in a statement.

image captionRobert Coles was arrested by Sussex Police, last March

"I believe that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults should be the highest priority of all parts of the Church, and that any failings in this area must be immediately reported to the police.

"I repeat what I have said before and, on behalf of the Church, apologise with deep grief for the betrayals and failings that occurred."

"My priority as Archbishop of Canterbury is to prevent future failings of this kind happening again."

'Admire courage'

Sussex Police said there was nothing to suggest any children were currently at risk.

Det Insp Jez Prior said detectives admired the courage of Coles's victims in coming forward and being prepared to give evidence against him.

"We continue to encourage people wishing to report offences to contact us, regardless of how long ago alleged offending took place," he said.

"In carrying out this investigation we also received full co-operation from the Diocese of Chichester."

Coles was also served with a sexual offences prevention order prohibiting him from unsupervised contact with boys under 16, and from seeking any employment or voluntary work with children under 16.

He was also ordered to register as a sex offender for life, on his release from prison.

Coles was arrested last March following a six-month investigation by Sussex Police.

More on this story

  • Archbishop of Canterbury condemns child abuse failings