Diocese of Chester

Bishop of Chester reveals he blocked lifetime ban for paedophile priest

It has come to light that England's longest-serving bishop blocked a life-time ban on a priest jailed for child pornography.

The Bishop of Chester revealed at the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) that he argued Rev Ian Hughes, who was jailed in 2014, shouldn't receive a lifetime ban from ministry.

The Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster suggested the ban should instead be for 20 years, which the President of the Tribunals agreed to impose.

 

Pete Saunders, a Christian and Chief Executive of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, told Premier some crimes cannot be forgotten - even by Christians.

"I think we are called to forgive - absolutely. To forget, absolutely not.

"We mustn't forget these things and the consequences of these crimes. In this case, we're not talking about victimless crimes, we're talking about little children whose lives have been devastated, destroyed and some will not even survive because of what was done to them for the gratification of people like this man and others who access these images and buy into this evil trade.

"I think I am all for forgiveness but I don't think that somebody who commits these crimes can ask forgiveness other than from the victims and I doubt very much whether the victims - in this case the many children who have been abused and viewed by him - will ever have an opportunity to express anything about the person or one of the people who bought into the trade [of pornography] that destroyed their lives.

"At the end of the day, forgiveness for such a vile crime, in my opinion, lies with Christ, not with me."

Rev Ian Hughes was convicted of possessing 8200 indecent images of children - 800 of the "worst kind" - and sentenced to a twelve-month custodial sentence.

Guidelines of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) state that a lifelong ban should be automatically imposed after a conviction of child abuse.

Dr Forster confirmed in oral evidence to the IICSA that he had written to the tribunal judge of the case, Sir Andrew McFarlane, in an effort to persuade him to ignore the guidelines.

"They are guidelines, they have to be interpreted," Dr Forster said.

"I felt that in [Mr Hughes's] case - given his relative youth, the fact that he was entirely penitent from the outset as to what had happened, and [that] his previous record of ministry was excellent - it was worth raising the possibility of a 20-year ban.

"The problem is that once you impose a lifetime ban there is no way to reverse it if for 20 years he had lived out the penitence."

Mr Saunders told Premier the Bishop is "very badly informed".

"If he thinks that after any period of time that somebody who has accessed the vilest of images of children being raped and abused should ever be allowed back into ministry where they would presumably have access to children and vulnerable people, I think that is a huge error of judgement."

Dr Forster is currently facing a complaint under the CDM concerning his decision not to disclose to the police in 2009 information from a retired cleric in his diocese who had disclosed that he had been accused of abusing a child in the 1970s.

Listen to Premier's Eno Adeogun speaking with Pete Saunders:

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