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Sunday 17 November 2019

Clergyman 'indecently assaulted men and teenagers as young as 14 over a 16-year period'

Vickery House is accused of eight charges of indecent assault
Vickery House is accused of eight charges of indecent assault

Emily Pennink

A "charismatic" clergyman abused his position in the Church of England to molest a string of teenagers and young men who fell under his influence over 16 years, a court heard.

Vickery House, 69, is on trial at the Old Bailey accused of eight charges of indecent assault against males as young as 14 between 1970 and 1986.

The court heard how House's first and youngest victim reported the sex abuse to Devon Police in 2001 but for "reasons that remain unknown to this day", no action was taken.

When the married vicar was arrest in 2012 he told police that he was "flabbergasted" and denied ever making inappropriate sexual advances.

Prosecutor Jake Hallam told jurors the case was all about "the sexual desires of this defendant towards much younger males".

While working as a curate and vicar in Devon and East Sussex, House had betrayed trust and responsibility of his position and taken advantage of young people who were "subservient" to him, he said.

In 1970, aged 14, the first alleged victim came under the influence of House when he was a member of a youth church group in his parish in Crediton, Devon, the court heard.

At the time, House, who was born in Seattle, in the United States, was in his 20s and appeared a "charismatic figure" to the boy from the rural community to whom he shared his appreciation of the "theatre of the church".

Being singled out by House made the boy feel he had a "special" place in the Church and in the wider world and he thought the clergyman was "great", Mr Hallam said.

During a residential trip in north Devon, House massaged his back and then indecently assaulted him in a boys' dormitory, leaving him feeling "embarrassed and ashamed", the court heard.

But he did not have the strength to report the incident then because he felt that House was in a "too powerful position", Mr Hallam said.

House tried to touch him sexually again at the home he shared with his wife but was interrupted when a lady from the Women's Institute called round, he said.

The prosecutor told the jury there was a common theme in the allegations, saying: "Mr House used his position of authority to make sexual advances to people which were unwanted but when they were rebuffed he would stop.

"You will need to consider the ability of somebody who was 14 or 15 to rebuff someone in his position."

The boy finally reported the incident in 2001, Mr Hallam said: "He went and told police in Devon and made a statement about what happened and for reasons that remain unknown still to this day it seems nothing was done and there the matter rested for some years until the investigation in this case began."

The second alleged victim was assaulted in a similar way when he visited House and his wife on the Devon-Somerset border in the late 1970s and again after the defendant moved to Berwick, near the South Downs in East Sussex to teach bible studies as part of a scheme for young people.

On the second occasion, the young man told House to stop touching him and went to go to bed, only for the older man to block his path and declare "I want you", jurors were told.

All the other alleged victims were involved in or had friends connected with the Church scheme in Sussex which House helped to run.

One young man was assaulted in bed at House's home after being offered a lift from Hastings during a storm, the court heard

When told to stop, House allegedly said that he could only stop himself if the young man locked himself into another room.

Another man in his 20s was allegedly assaulted on a trip to London where he stayed with House in the one-bedroom flat of a fellow clergyman in Streatham.

After spending the evening drinking a bottle of wine, eating a lamb dish prepared by House, and listening to Brahms, the defendant announced it was "time for bed", Mr Hallam said.

The alleged victim thought that sharing a bed with House would be like "Morecambe and Wise" or "Laurel and Hardy" until five seconds after the defendant got in and began to touch his genitals.

He said there must be "some misunderstanding" and House responded that he had "wasted his time" taking him to London when he "could have had two or three other people who were on the scheme instead", Mr Hallam said.

In 1985, House tried to kiss another young man as they had a "deep and meaningful chat about vocation and spiritual life" on a country walk, the court heard.

When House was arrested in 2012 and interviewed about two of the later allegations, he denied ever doing any of the things he was accused of, saying he was "flabbergasted and confused".

House, of Brighton Road, Handcross, West Sussex, denies the charges against him.

PA Media

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