Priests arrested in Eastbourne in sex abuse inquiry

Canon Gordon Rideout and Father Robert Coles
Image caption Canon Gordon Rideout and Father Robert Coles were arrested separately at their homes

Two retired Church of England priests have been arrested in the Eastbourne area on suspicion of sexually abusing children and young men.

Canon Gordon Rideout, 73, is suspected of sexually assaulting nine young people between 1965 and 1972.

Former parish priest Robert Coles, 70, is suspected of sexually assaulting three young men in West Sussex in the late 1970s and mid-1980s.

Detectives in East Sussex say they are not linking the cases at this stage.

Arrested at home

They emphasised there was nothing to suggest that any children were currently at risk.

Sussex Police said the arrests, made at the homes of the two men, are the result of a complex and ongoing reinvestigation.

Canon Rideout, a former rural dean, is suspected of abusing children in Crawley, West Sussex; Barkingside in north-east London and Middle Wallop in Hampshire.

The arrests follow an investigation over the past six months by a team of specialist child protection detectives from Sussex Police.

It follows receipt last year by the Diocese of Chichester and Sussex Police of a confidential review by Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss into historic allegations of sexual abuse by Church of England priests against young people in Sussex and elsewhere.

The arrests follow on-going church inquiries into Bishop Wallace Benn, the Bishop of Lewes, who is facing disciplinary action for alleged safeguarding mistakes.

It coincides with an investigation ordered by the Archbishop of Canterbury into child protection failings in churches in Sussex.

Insufficient evidence

The force said several allegations against Canon Rideout were made to police in 1972 but no criminal proceedings resulted.

Another related allegation was made to police in 2001 and an arrest was made then but there was not sufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

Canon Rideout conducted services at All Saints Church, Eastbourne until 2010.

In the 1960s he was a chaplain at two Barnado's homes in London.

He was also chaplain at Moira House Girls School in Eastbourne until 2003 and chair of governors at St Mary's special school in Bexhill and Bishop Bell school in Eastbourne.

Recent allegations

One of the allegations against Robert Coles was investigated in 1997, and an arrest was made, but there was insufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings at that time.

The other allegations have only recently emerged as a result of the current inquiry.

The Right Reverend Mark Sowerby, Acting Bishop of Chichester, said: "I can assure the public that the two people who have been arrested were not in licensed ministry recently and the cases are of a historic nature."

Det Ch Insp Carwyn Hughes said: "Although they have been arrested on the same day the cases against the two men are being treated as separate inquiries at this stage.

"The offences were allegedly committed at different times and in different places from each other.

"There are no allegations of recent or current offending and police emphasise that there is nothing to suggest that any children are currently at risk."

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