Police Chief's Letter Ignites Fresh Jehovah's Witness Child Abuse Row
By Kevin Donald Location: Washington
A police chief has controversially claimed that Jehovah's Witness church elders who refused to comment on a child abuse scandal did not "try to prevent a prosecution."
The elders said they had a 'duty to God' to keep sex attacker Gordon Leighton's confession a secret - but were ordered to testify by a judge. Now Northumbria Chief Superintendent Kay Blyth has written to a child sex abuse campaigner about the case.
In her letter to Mike Ellis she states: "At no time did any of the elders try to prevent a prosecution or conceal a crime." Mr Ellis is a member of the Ex Jehova's Witness United In Christ movement which seeks to expose child abuse scandals it claims are being concealed within the church.
He said: "what we have now is a conflict between the police stance on such matters and that of a Crown Court judge which, unless addressed, will give license to still more cover-ups within the Churches of Jehovah’s Witnesses or any other organisation or walk of life for that matter."
The development follows the jailing of paedophile Leighton, a Jehovah Witness ministerial servant, for 13 years. He admitted sexually abusing a child when he was confronted with allegations before elders at his church, Newcastle Crown Court heard in August.
But during the official police investigation the 53-year-old, who hit the headlines in the 1990s when his wife Yvonne, 28, died after refusing a blood transfusion after childbirth on religious grounds, denied any illegal wrongdoing. When detectives asked elders Simon Preyser, Harry Logan and David Scott to make statements about the confession, all three refused and said what they had heard was confidential.
The elders knew about the admissions for three years, but refused to cooperate with the criminal investigation, the court heard. The trio kept that stance when the case was brought before Newcastle Crown Court.
Each was then issued with a witness summons. Excerpt from police chief's letter They then launched a court battle against the summonses but were ordered to testify by Judge Penny Moreland after months of legal wrangling. Their barrister Richard Daniels said the men had a 'duty to God' not to breach confidence.
He added: 'Privileged communication between members of the congregation and ministers is an absolute right and duty and there is no power in law to breach such a confidence.' But Judge Moreland made an order that the men must reveal what they heard and said:
“It is apparent that the three elders who were present when this conversation took place are in possession of relevant evidence as to a point which is of real significance in this case.
'They claim the right of confidentiality, they claim that what they heard said by the defendant during the course of that meeting ought to be subject to privilege, as ministers of religion.' Judge Moreland refused to withdraw the summonses and said: 'Public interest is clearly in favour of this evidence being given. 'What was said by the defendant on that occasion is of great significance in the trial.'
In her letter to Mr Ellis, Chief Supt Blyth continues: "In law it is not an offence not to provide evidence as a witness. This is a personal choice. At no time did any of the elders attempt to prevent a prosecution or conceal a crime from the police.
"The victim in the case was 24 years old when the sexual allegations were made and as such she was in a position to report directly to the police and her ability to do so was never hinfdered by anty of the elders named." Chief Superintendent Blyth has gone on to issue a statement about her letter.
She says: "I want to be clear that at no point was the victim in this case prevented or hindered in any way from coming forward and reporting this crime to police.
"Following the report a thorough police investigation took place. Some members of the community came forward and actively provided information to police.
"Wherever there was a situation during the investigation where religious privilege and public interest conflicted, the community sought legal advice, and we sought legal advice, and where determinations were made to provide information they complied without issue.
"This legal process took place throughout the investigation up to and including some members giving evidence in court. Again, they complied with the judge's direction that public interest was the over-riding factor. There is no evidence to suggest that a crime has been committed.
"Ultimately, through a careful police investigation, the bravery and determination of the victim, who received specialist support throughout, and due legal processes, Leighton was jailed for 13 years, a sentence which reflects the seriousness of his crimes."