Bishop of Chichester admits child abuse cover-up

Gary Johnson reading the letter from the Bishop of Chichester
Image caption Gary Johnson received the letter from the Bishop of Chichester following a meeting with him

The Bishop of Chichester has admitted to a former choirboy, abused as a child by an Anglican priest in East Sussex, that there was a cover-up.

Gary Johnson and his older brother, from Eastbourne, were abused by Roy Cotton, who worked for the Diocese of Chichester, in the 1970s and 1980s.

In a private letter of apology to Mr Johnson, Dr Martin Warner wrote: "There has been deception and cover-up here."

Welcoming the letter, Mr Johnson said: "I've been taken seriously at last."

He said: "It's given me some semblance of humanity. I've been validated, and I've been met at a level where I don't feel like a victim or a survivor.

"I feel like I'm a party that is worth talking to."

'Deeply ashamed'

Cotton was ordained in 1966, despite having a conviction for sexually abusing a choirboy in the 1950s, and went on to abuse at least 10 boys from Eastbourne. He died in 2006 as investigations were under way.

Dr Warner told BBC South East the cover-up had not been perpetrated by recent or current senior members of clergy.

Image caption Dr Martin Warner said he had personally written the letter

He said: "By cover-up, I mean that a person in authority, who has information, deliberately, knowingly ignores the information, does not pass it on; allows somebody who is a perpetrator of abuse to move from one post to another, allows somebody who is a perpetrator of abuse not to be challenged, brought to account - and thereby colludes actually with the abuse."

Dr Warner said it also referred to when an accusation was rebuffed.

"There have been instances [of child sex abuse] we now see as the files are explored where that has happened.

"Roy Cotton is the most obvious example for which we have evidence," he said.

The letter was written on 10 April, following a meeting the day before between Dr Warner and Mr Johnson.

Describing it as "a genuine statement of apology", Dr Warner said the letter "comes from me personally, but also from me as the person who bears responsibility for representing the Diocese of Chichester as its bishop.

"I am deeply ashamed of the way that you have been treated by us."

As well as "deception and cover-up", he told Mr Johnson there had also been "ineptitude and irresponsible lack of professionalism".

"Nor have we always been willing to admit these failures; indeed, the arrogance of institutional pride has made things much worse," he wrote.

Mr Johnson, who now lives in the US, said although there was nothing in the letter that Dr Martin had not said at their meeting, he had not been prepared for him "to be quite so forthright and honest with me on letter-headed paper".

"The words deception and cover-up can only really mean exactly that. I'm very grateful that Martin Warner chose to use such clear language."

'Sweep in change'

Mr Johnson added: "Dr Warner needs to be applauded for the efforts he's making in trying to engage with survivors such as myself and my brother.

"I think his choice of diction in the letter is very carefully put to send a clear signal that he's trying to sweep in a change and really put the deception and cover-up behind the Church that he now represents.

Image caption Roy Cotton was ordained in 1966 despite having a conviction for sexually abusing a choirboy

"The fact that anybody, especially someone in a senior position in the Church of England, would go on record saying something as profound as this should not be heard by one individual.

"It should be there for all other victims wherever they are, especially those who've never been contacted, who've never been offered any support, who struggle in silence," he said.

Dr Warner told the BBC he hoped the letter would be received by Mr Johnson "as a statement of our commitment to honesty and openness".

"I think it's very important also to say that where we see failure, where we see cover-up, where we see malpractice, we name it," he said.

The previous Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, who commissioned a review by Baroness Butler-Sloss into how historical claims of abuse by two Sussex priests were handled, said: "Bishop Martin has my full support in any efforts that make unambiguously clear his (and my) deep sorrow for the way in which so many young people were abused.

"I am therefore glad of the opportunity to repeat the full apology I expressed to victims, not only for the abuse they suffered over many years but also for any clumsiness in the way in which their approaches to the Church for help were met."

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