Tyne & Wear

Longhorsley vicar Peter McConnell guilty of drunken plane grope

Peter McConnell entering court
Image caption The Reverend Peter McConnell used to be chief chaplain of Northumbria Police

A vicar has been found guilty of sexually assaulting an American student on a transatlantic flight.

The Reverend Peter McConnell rubbed the man's groin on a flight from Philadelphia to Heathrow in March 2017, Newcastle Crown Court heard.

McConnell, of Longhorsley, Northumberland, had been drinking wine and spoke about strip clubs.

The 64-year-old, who was vicar at St Helen's Church in the village at the time, was convicted at a retrial.

He will be sentenced on 29 July.

Jurors previously heard he had moved to sit in an empty seat next to the student, because a child behind him kept kicking his own.

McConnell then explained to him that he had been visiting the United States with his godson.

'Distressed and dismayed'

Towards the end of the flight the student became tired and McConnell covered him with a blanket, the court heard.

It was then the vicar sexually assaulted him under the blanket after he fell asleep.

The student later complained to the Church of England after taking Mr McConnell's contact details and the police became involved.

The complainant said he reported it because the vicar had told him he worked with children and he was worried about their safety.

In a statement, Archdeacon Peter Robinson of the Diocese of Newcastle, said: "All forms of abuse, including sexual assault, are destructive of human relationships and contrary to the teachings of Christ and the behaviour expected of ministers in the Church of England.

"We are distressed and dismayed at the actions of the Rev Peter McConnell and our thoughts are very much with his victim, who showed great courage in coming forward, and his family."

McConnell - who was Northumbria Police chaplain during the hunt for killer Raoul Moat - was on long-term sick leave at the time of the assault and retired earlier this year.

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