Church leaders refused to co-operate with a police investigation into a sex attack by one of their congregation on a teenage girl.
Jehovah’s witness Paul Atkin has now been jailed for five years after he admitted sexual activity with a 15-year-old.
A court heard the South Shields based branch of the church carried out their own investigation after the allegation came to light and Atkin was booted out.
But when police came knocking, church officials refused to help what was then a rape allegation, on the grounds of confidentiality.
Prosecutor Deborah Smith told Newcastle Crown Court: “It would appear there was some form of investigation by the church.
“We know the defendant was disfellowshipped as a consequence of that investigation but there has been no disclosure of any minutes of meetings with the defendant and the elders have refused to provide statements to the police, despite the fact the defendant is no longer a member of their congregation, on the grounds of confidentiality.”
Atkin, of East Moffat Street, South Shields, was initially accused of rape but the charge was dropped when he admitted sexual activity with a child.
The court heard his victim was 15-and-a-half when he had sex with her.
Miss Smith said: “She did not wish to have sexual intercourse with him.
“The Crown accept, having discussed matters with her, the defendant may reasonably have believed that she did.
“She did not fight back or shout out at the time of the incident.”
The court heard the woman is still on anti-depressants and says her self confidence has been shattered by the ordeal.
In a statement read to the court, the victim, who is now an adult, said: “This has had a major effect on me and I cannot trust men.
“I bottled everything up and as a teenager I turned to drink and drugs.”
“I hope he gets sent to prison and gets what he deserves.”
Judge Simon Hickey jailed Atkin for five years and said he must sign the sex offenders register for life and abide by the terms of a sexual offences prevention order for five years.
The judge told him: “This has had a huge effect upon this young lady.”
Gavin Doig, defending, said Atkin has a good, supportive family and partner and said his family describe him as a “hard working man with a job” who will face devastating consequences if sent to jail.
He added that it was Atkin himself who had brought the matter to the attention of police.
Mr Doig told the court: “This defendant made a very bad mistake a number of years ago. He has not made any further mistakes.
“He is extremely sorry he committed this offence knowing, as he did, the complainant was under age.”