Sex abuse vicar Ronald Johns: Church missed chances to report him

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Media captionThe 75-year-old spoke of his contentment in a 1989 episode of Countryfile

Church bosses missed three chances to report a child sex abusing vicar to the police, the BBC has learned.

Between 1983 and 1991, the Reverend Ronald Johns sexually abused three boys while working in Cumbria.

In 1993 he admitted his crimes to his Bishop, but instead of reporting him to police the Church of England moved him to a different parish.

Archdeacon of West Cumberland, the Venerable Richard Pratt, said the church missed three chances to report Johns to police delaying an investigation.

In September, Johns, a former canon of Carlisle Cathedral, pleaded guilty at the city's crown court to assaulting three teenage boys.

The 75-year-old, of Kings Road, Coltishall, Norwich, has now been sentenced to four years in jail.

'I know everybody'

Archdeacon Pratt said when Johns's victims reported him to the church in 1993, a forensic expert had said he was unlikely to reoffend and the allegations were not reported to police.

He said: "There were three occasions that we should have gone to the police. At the time we thought the victims did not want to go to the police and we thought Johns would lose his house as well as his job - this was an explanation, but in no way an excuse.

Image caption Johns leading a service in Borrowdale in 1989 as part of a BBC documentary

"Certainly these days, we would go to the police with that level of suspicion and knowledge - we really ought not to be giving people another job."

In 1989, Johns featured in an episode of the BBC's Countryfile talking about his nine years in Grange, Borrowdale, in the Lake District.

Sitting beside Derwent with birds singing in the background he spoke of the "intimate" relationships he had fostered with parishioners and his happiness.

The footage showed him taking a service in his green robes against a backdrop of picturesque shots of the hills and vales said to have inspired the Lakeland poets.

He was described in the episode as a bachelor who worked in the parishes of Merseyside for more than 20 years before coming to the Lake District.

He said: "I'm certainly very happy and I hope the people of Borrowdale are happy too.

"Working in a smaller parish, you have time to make relationships in depth. You have time to talk to them and they have time to talk to you.

"I know everybody in every house, and therefore the relationship between a country vicar and his people is far more intimate than it ever can be in place where you've got 20,000 people."

The former canon was seen spending time with children at a scout camp. During the film he also talked about the beauty of the fells and how living in such a scenic place made it easy to believe in God.

He said: "It is the close to nature syndrome - here it is not difficult to believe in a great creator."

Image caption Ronald Johns was moved to a different parish after the allegations

When the 75-year-old admitted his guilt last month, Archdeacon Pratt apologised "unreservedly" to Johns' victims.

"We've been deeply shocked and grieved by the Reverend Ron Johns' admission of child sexual abuse," he said.

"It's right that the highest standards should be expected of clergy and Mr Johns' has badly failed his vocation and his profession."

'No excuse'

The archdeacon said when the church was made aware of the allegations in 1993 Johns admitted the offences to the then Bishop of Carlisle, The Right Reverend Ian Harland. But the bishop did not alert the authorities, instead moving Johns to a parish in Caldbeck.

He explained the bishop had taken advice from the forensic psychiatrist who said Johns was unlikely to repeat such offences.

"The decision was taken, absolutely wrongly, that he be moved from the cathedral to Caldbeck," the archdeacon said.

He said if the complaints had been made now the church would go to the police even if alleged victims did not want to report them.

He added: "Bishop Ian is not here to defend himself, but if he was I'm sure he would say he tried to care for the complainants. In subsequent years others came forward and police were able to build up a picture."

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