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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Cumbrian village in shock over sex abuse vicar placement

Caldbeck villagers have spoken of their shock after learning how a former Bishop of Carlisle saddled them with a vicar who admitted sexually abusing children.

Ronald Johns photo
The Rev Ronald Johns

Related: Bishop of Carlisle’s apology for sex case vicar

Former Carlisle Cathedral canon Ronald Johns is awaiting sentence for a string of child sex crimes.

Justice finally caught up with him at the city’s crown court last month, when he pleaded guilty to 10 offences against three boys between 1983 and 1991.

In a highly unusual move this week, the current Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend James Newcome, offered a personal apology for how the church handled the affair, particularly the failure of the late Bishop Ian Harland, who was Johns’ boss, to report the abuse to the police.

In a letter to church officials sent out this week, Richard Pratt, the Archdeacon of West Cumberland, spelled out the depth of the failure.

The letter states: “In 1993 the then Bishop Ian Harland received a very serious complaint about Ron John’s conduct; when faced with this, Ron Johns admitted his offence. The appropriate course of action would have been to remove him from office and go the police.

“It appears that the complainants themselves did not want to go to the police and perhaps that is a partial explanation for the Bishop’s failure to do this.”

Bishop Harland, who died in 2008, moved Johns to Caldbeck after a psychiatrist concluded he was unlikely to reoffend.

The letter adds: “The Bishop should not have moved Ron Johns to Caldbeck, Castle Sowerby, and Sebergham, and for this we are deeply sorry.

“We do recognise the profound and damaging impact this must have.”

The Venerable Dr Pratt has stressed church investigations revealed no similar cases in Cumbria in recent years.

The case has left Caldbeck villagers shocked.

Alasdair Macfadzean, 67, who has lived in the village since 1954, said locals had no suspicions whatsoever.

He said: “None of us suspected any of this. He was a very good vicar: a lovely, cheery chap, and somebody you could have a good crack with and a pint.

“He was very popular in the village. There was no hint of anything like this.

“Now that we know the previous Bishop knew about these allegations, and that he had admitted it, he should never have been sent here. He was obviously not a fit and proper person.”

Farmer Geoff Coulthard, 81, also knew Johns when he worked in Caldbeck.

“He seemed such a nice guy,” he said. “He was well liked. It’s a shock to find out about this. He wasn’t fit to do his job. People are disappointed. Nobody would have expected that of him.”

Another Caldbeck farmer, Gordon Watson, 56, said: “It was wrong of them to send him here. He should have been kicked out, but nothing would surprise me.”

At the Oddfellows Arms, locals were equally appalled at both what Johns did and at how the church handled it. One drinker there said: “He was a popular fellow and he officiated at my son’s wedding. He preached a good sermon.

“What can you say about something like this? He’s let himself down, and he’s let the whole church down.”

Johns, 75, of Kings Road, Coltishall, Norwich, retired from his post as rector of Caldbeck, Castle Sowerby, and Sebergham in 2000.

He will be sentenced later this month.

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